The Washington Education Association (WEA) has launched an innovative teacher residency program that allows individuals with bachelor’s degrees to earn a teacher certificate with an endorsement in special education.
WEA is the first union to take the lead role in credentialing teachers and is currently in the first full academic year of the program with 16 residents.
"WEA’s teacher residency program will help address teaching shortages in special education, and we're proud to say the program is created for educators, by educators,” said NEA president Becky Pringle. "We must continue to work together to empower future teachers, while connecting them with mentors and others who will support their journey, build a community and celebrate their accomplishments."
In January, WEA held a Residency Week, bringing together teacher residents and mentors, district representatives, NEA affiliates interested in starting their own residency programs, including the Hawaii Education Association and Education Minnesota, NEA Vice President Princess Moss and NEA Executive Director Kim Anderson, as well as representatives from the U.S. Education and Labor departments.
The Biden-Harris administration is supporting Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs) to provide additional pathways to teaching, with an emphasis on paid student teaching.
The Departments of Labor and Education have partnered on this effort, and the Department of Labor awarded WEA $3.4 million to expand its Teacher Residency Program.
The WEA Residency Week provided affiliates and partners with a deeper understanding of WEA’s innovative program and an opportunity for everyone to share resources and ideas.
Participants visited schools in the Mukilteo School District to see residents in the classroom with their mentors where they are focused on the state’s Cultural Competency Diversity Equity and Inclusion (CCDEI) standards and creating a more diverse, inclusive, and better-prepared teaching workforce.
A highlight of the WEA Residency Week was a panel discussion with teacher residents who shared their experiences of hands-on learning that will prepare them for their education careers. NEA Vice President Princess Moss kicked off the discussion by sharing how important the residency program is for residents and students alike, calling the program “groundbreaking.”
“You are fulfilling the dream of educators owning the profession for educators by educators, and it benefits not only educators, but the students they serve,” she said.
She described what she saw during the WEA Residency Week, including labor-management collaboration, truly inclusive classrooms, and a solution to the educator shortage crisis.
“On behalf of NEA, I want to thank the residents, the districts, and the education partners who are making this program possible,” Moss said. “The work you are doing will change public education forever.”
The WEA Teacher Residency Program brings new perspective to the aspiring educator landscape. Through this program, WEA is at the forefront of meeting the needs of aspiring educators through a program that truly reflects best practices for teaching throughout residency coursework, and is context-embedded, with residents learning to be effective teachers as they gain teaching experience in classrooms in their own communities.
This exceptional teacher-preparation program reduces barriers for aspiring teachers by partnering with school districts to implement a yearlong residency. Residents work alongside mentors in multiple rotations, each rotation at a different grade level and program type. The program is affordable, and residents receive a living wage throughout their teaching rotations. Beyond affordability, residents have access to trainers and mentors who are current teachers.
“This is my dream program,” says Meenakshi Boma, who is a teacher resident at Mark Twain Elementary in the Federal Way district. She works alongside mentor Gerald Rhoden, who teaches second grade. “It’s everything I dreamed about and more and I love it.”
Boma, along with Joshua Wisnubroto and Lauren Lewis, are residents in the inaugural class of the WEA Teacher Residency. Wisnubroto is learning alongside his mentor, Aaron Yniguez, in the Mukilteo School District, and Lewis is learning from mentor Trevor Nix in Walla Walla.
An important goal of the program is to diversify the teaching force in Washington by reducing barriers for educators of color to enter the teaching profession.
“I am excited to see this program grow and recruit more teachers of color for not only special education but for general education, too, so that staff reflect the student diversity in our schools,” says Rhoden.
The WEA Teacher Residency Program launched in June. In its inaugural year, it serves 16 residents across three school districts — Federal Way, Mukilteo and Walla Walla — with a focus on training aspiring special-education teachers.
One commonality across residents is their aspiration to become special-education teachers, but they are facing insurmountable barriers in achieving that goal. That is, until they found the WEA Teacher Residency Program.
Boma began her career in education as a one-to-one paraeducator five years ago, then transitioned to substitute teaching in 2019. Wisnubroto began his career as an inclusion paraeducator in a general education classroom, eventually transitioning to substitute teaching as well. Lewis, after completing Teach for America, similarly started her education career as a paraeducator.
While each of these aspiring educators had a foothold in education, becoming a certified classroom teacher proved difficult, as the traditional route did not meet their financial needs or honor the experience they already brought with them. The WEA Teacher Residency Program was the solution they needed.
The level of support and the opportunity to experience teaching at different grade levels are two elements that set the WEA Teacher Residency Program apart for these residents.
“It is incredible to have this huge support system. It is all encompassing,” says Lewis of her experience in the residency program thus far. “I have been slowly taking over responsibility.
This gradual release of responsibility style is really what I needed. I’m not thrown in there, but get to gradually take on more responsibility, so when I recently got to sub for my mentor, Trevor, it was crazy, but I felt ready.”
Wisnubroto who is serving his first rotation at ACES High School, an alternative high school in his community in south Everett, was attracted to the Teacher Residency Program partially because of the financial aspect, but mainly because of the mentor-teacher role. “I get to see an example of what to do and how to do it.”
While traditional programs provide only a single 10-to-12-week student teaching experience, Wisnubroto explains that the WEA program “is more hands on, with the opportunity to work with a wide demographic of students.” He points out the importance of learning about classroom management and dealing with student behaviors in real-time, which is not something he would get in a more traditional program.
Federal Way resident Boma agrees. “I have learned more in this first rotation than I have in my last five years working in this school district as a sub.” Boma also highlights the benefits of learning to address student behaviors in the moment.
“I am learning so much about classroom management,” she explains. “I’m having restorative conversations with students who are misbehaving, and I learned how from my mentor.”
Of the coursework, Boma points out the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in all aspects of special education. “In our coursework we are learning about DEI and about IEPs (Individual Education Plans), and about having those difficult conversations about race and ethnicity and responding to students and families in the ways they need.”
The program mentors echo the sentiments of the residents. Yniguez in Mukilteo says of the program, “This program is an amazing opportunity for residents and mentors, but also for our state to try out a new approach to training new teachers and preparing them for the challenges they will face in the classroom.”
Yniguez also highlights the residents’ access to teachers in the field and access to knowledge at the ground level, while punctuating the value for mentors, as well. “Being a mentor in the program has reinvigorated me and reminded me why I love doing what I do. Watching a new teacher grow and learn is wonderful. It brings that passion back into my classroom practice.”
Rhoden, in Federal Way, comes to the Teacher Residency Program as a new mentor.
“Mentors and mentees get to work hand-in-hand. I’ve been learning as much as the residents,” he says. “I also have the opportunity to reflect on my own practice and see what I can improve.”
Nix, in Walla Walla, reiterates how being a mentor in the program has reignited him as a teacher. Being a mentor “has been good for my classroom and for me. It’s made me feel more involved after 14 years in the classroom.”
As a mentor, Nix wants to help his mentees be the best teachers they can be by modeling and teaching them skills and strategies as they are happening in the classroom. He discusses Lauren Lewis’ experiences thus far. “Lauren has had to deal with a lot: home visits, parent meetings and IEP meetings. She’s getting experience in the real world.”
Lewis agrees that she has learned a lot in her first rotation. “The kids have taught me so much. I think I’ve learned more from them than I have taught them.” Just as she has felt safe to learn and grow as a teacher resident, she wants to create an environment for her students to feel the same. Lewis calls this “unconditional support. No matter what you do, I will always support you and figure out a plan that works for you.”
Boma says she loves the honesty of her students and wants to be the type of teacher she needed in school. “I have grown as a person and learned so much from the kids. People underestimate these students. I want to be their advocate. It’s so exciting to watch them grow.”
Wisnubroto points to his own experiences as an English learner in elementary school. “My teacher was helpful and advocated for me to be full time in my general- education classroom and not pulled out all of the time.” He explains that everyone learns differently. “I want to give kids an opportunity to work from their strengths. It’s not about lowering expectations,” he says. “It’s about helping students exceed the expectations people have of them.”
Empowering special-education students and helping them to grow is not the only passion these residents share. They also believe in the WEA program.
Boma encompasses the thoughts of her fellow residents, “I love this program. I’m grateful to be part of it,” she says, specifically calling out Annie Lamberto, the WEA staff member who is the program supervisor, and her amazing and super- supportive mentors and teachers. “I feel like I’m learning so much and am so supported. I hope more people apply.”