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Teacher Resources

Glossary of Common Teacher Preparation Terms

Teacher preparation programs are state-approved courses of study that meet all the state’s educational and training requirements for initial teacher certification or licensure. There are two types: traditional and alternative. Research is largely mixed as to which type of program is most effective at producing high-quality teachers. However, practices within both types of preparation programs are associated with better teacher and student outcomes.  

States define the requirements for all preparation programs, which are then incorporated into each provider’s program design. As a result, there is variation in content, professional and experiential aspects of programs within both traditional and alternative programs.  

The sections below provide high-level definitions of traditional and alternative preparation programs, common terms associated with teacher preparation and best practices associated with the different types of preparation programs.  

Traditional teacher preparation programs are housed in colleges and universities and involve direct instruction on content and pedagogy, which culminate in supervised clinical experiences, e.g., student teaching. Traditional programs can be at the undergraduate or post-baccalaureate level. Undergraduate programs lead to both certification and a bachelor’s degree, while programs at the post-baccalaureate level lead to certification but may or may not lead to a graduate degree.  

Alternative teacher preparation programs are defined as preparation pathways outside the traditional program structure. Because that encompasses a multitude of different preparation types, significant variation exists between designs of these programs. Alternative programs can be offered by a wide range of providers, including colleges and universities, school districts, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit organizations. In alternative models, candidates are on a condensed timeline and complete coursework while working in the classroom.  

Initially, alternative models were created to immediately address teacher shortages by having candidates act as the teacher of record in their own classroom while completing their preparation coursework. However, alternative programs have expanded to include nontraditional pathways that have candidates complete their coursework while engaging in intensive clinical experiences under a supervising teacher. In alternative programs where the candidate is acting as the teacher of record, candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree prior to program entry. Alternative programs with intensive clinical experiences may or may not require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, depending on the program design. 

Grow Your Own programs represent a variety of different alternative preparation models that recruit and prepare local community members to become teachers in their communities. Because this definition is so broad, Grow Your Own programs also include initiatives for early recruitment that do not function as preparation programs. For the purposes of this article, only Grow Your Own programs that are teacher preparation programs will be discussed.  

One common Grow Your Own model is paraprofessional to teacher preparation programs. This model recruits paraprofessionals or other educational assistants already working in the school and helps them to earn a teaching credential. Individuals in these programs typically continue to work as paraprofessionals or educational assistants while completing the necessary coursework. Programs can be designed for those with or without a bachelor’s degree.  

High-quality grow your own programs

  • Create structured pathways for candidates to meet requirements for certification at various stages of their careers. 
  • Provide paid work-based experience under the guidance of a trained mentor that aligns with preparation coursework. 
  • Incorporate coursework and learning experiences that build knowledge of curriculum development and assessment; learning and child development; students’ social, emotional and academic development; culturally responsive practices; and collaboration with families and colleagues. 
  • Recruit linguistically and culturally diverse candidates who are both reflective of and responsive to the needs of the local community. 
  • Provide wraparound supports for candidates through recruitment, preparation and employment.  
  • Support strong collaboration and coordination across school districts, educator preparation providers and community organizations. 

Research suggests that Grow Your Own preparation models are effective at recruiting more diverse candidates that are representative of the community and have high retention rates.  

A residency is defined as a period of specialized training in the work environment. In working to create a national definition of teacher residencies, the Pathways Alliance describes teacher residencies as:  

“Preparation pathways that are anchored in partnership and reflect a program curriculum that is collaboratively designed by local education agencies and teacher preparation programs to meet the goals of 1) ensuring aspiring teachers have affordable, high-quality opportunities and supports while they learn to teach and 2) supporting the instructional and staffing needs of local schools and districts. In their yearlong pre-service clinical practice settings, residents are not teachers of record. They work alongside accomplished mentor teachers, experiencing the breadth of roles and responsibilities that teachers engage across the course of a year as educational professionals.” 

Residency programs feature: 

  • Collaborative partnerships between preparation programs and local education agencies. 
  • Curriculum that integrates program coursework and clinical placement (residency) experiences. 
  • A full academic year of preservice preparation where the resident works alongside a mentor teacher while taking aligned coursework. 
  • Skilled and trained mentor teachers who collaborate with preparation program faculty to support resident development. 

Although not necessarily required to be considered a residency, providing compensation to both teacher residents and mentors serves to recruit more teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds and to incentivize teachers to take on the roles and responsibilities of being a mentor.  

Residency working experiences differ from typical student teaching in that student teaching is divided between observation and taking full classroom responsibility, while residents are integrally involved in the day-to-day delivery of services and gradually assume full responsibility for a classroom. These programs can function as a traditional or alternative teacher preparation program depending on the design. In a traditional preparation program, the residency experience takes the place of typical student teaching, which occurs in the last year of their program after being given direct instruction on content and pedagogy. As shown in the example in Figure 1 below, alternative teacher residency preparation programs provide instruction concurrently with the residency experience without prior coursework. 

Registered apprenticeship programs are federally recognized career pathways where employers develop and prepare their future workforce by providing individuals with paid work experience and relevant instruction that lead to an industry recognized credential. As with teacher residencies, registered teacher apprenticeship programs can provide pathways to the teaching career at a variety of different entry points. Some programs lead to a bachelor's degree, while others provide a pathway for those who already have an undergraduate degree. Because registered apprenticeships require on-the-job experiences throughout the entire program, teacher apprenticeship programs function as alternative preparation programs. Figure 2 below provides an example of a registered teacher apprenticeship program leading to a bachelor’s degree.  

Figure 2: Providing a Pathway to Earning a Bachelor's Degree Within Three YearsFigure 2: Providing a Pathway to Earning a Bachelor's Degree Within Three Years, Grow Your Own Teacher Apprenticeship Program Playbook, Tennessee Department of Education

Although registered teacher apprenticeships and teacher residencies are both designed to provide intensive classroom experience concurrently with aligned instruction and coursework, registered apprenticeship programs are validated by the U.S. Department of Labor or State Apprenticeship Agency, have specific requirements and provide access to a range of additional resources. Additionally, residency models often create new positions known as teacher residents, while a registered apprentice can be hired for existing paraprofessional or educational assistant positions. 

Registered apprenticeship programs can be designed as teacher residency programs, but not all registered apprenticeships meet the requirements to be considered a residency program and not all residency programs meet the requirements to be considered a registered apprenticeship. While residency programs may refer to the classroom experience portion of the program as an apprenticeship, that does not necessarily mean they are a registered apprenticeship program. In those cases, the term apprenticeship is used to refer to on-the-job training under a skilled practitioner.  

2+2 programs allow candidates to complete the first two years of coursework at a community college before transferring to a four-year university to complete their bachelor’s degree and preparation program. These programs are typically designed as traditional undergraduate preparation programs, but they can also function as an alternative preparation program. 2+2 programs require degree-articulation agreements between the community college and four-year university to ensure the credits earned at the community college transfer towards bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation program requirements at the four-year university.  

The 2+2 programs may help to expand opportunities into rural communities where there may not be a nearby four-year university as well as increase recruitment of candidates of color because of the large number of students of color enrolled in community colleges. Additionally, 2+2 programs can increase overall recruitment efforts by lowering the cost to enter the profession. 

To demonstrate how these terms interact, the following example of teacher preparation programs features a variety of different models. 

Clarksville-Montgomery County School System’s Teacher Preparation Program 

The teacher preparation program offered by Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) in Tennessee provides an example of how teacher preparation programs can feature a variety of different models within one program.  

  • Registered Apprenticeship Program: CMCSS’s teacher preparation program is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor as an apprenticeship program.  
  • Teacher Residency Program: The program is a partnership between CMCSS, Nashville State Community College and Austin Peay State University that provides an affordable pathway to teaching with pre-service clinical practice where residents are not teachers of record. 
  • Grow Your Own Program: CMCSS recruits from current educational assistants to grow their own workforce, allowing educational assistants to maintain their employment while pursuing a teaching career.  
  • Alternative Preparation Program: Teacher candidates complete their coursework on a condensed timeline while engaging in intensive clinical experiences as educational assistants in a school.  
  • 2 + 2 Program: Participants complete the first two years of their teacher preparation program at a community college before transferring to an institute of higher education for their final year of preparation. 
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