With parents and guardians doing their best to homeschool their students and support their families during this pandemic, it’s clearer now more than ever just how valuable teachers are to our young people’s success. So many teachers are going above and beyond right now — as they tend to do — to meet their students’ and families’ needs. As a former teacher and as the executive director of redefinED atlanta, I salute the more than 5,000 teachers across Atlanta, who are integral to our goal of becoming a city where every student in every community receives a high-quality education.
Cultivating strong school-level talent is a core element of what we do as an organization, and so this Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to share a little bit more about the educators who have participated in an innovative partnership we helped launch to strengthen Atlanta’s public schools.
Relay Graduate School of Education’s mission is to prepare teachers and administrators with a practical and effective program that balances the theory-focused offerings of most traditional programs with a heavy dose of deliberate practice and concrete ways teachers can help their students.
When I learned about Relay’s model and saw the initial evidence of their effectiveness I immediately wanted them to help prepare teachers in Atlanta, where (like many districts across the country) there was a shortage of educators. There are few programs nationwide that track the effectiveness of their budding teachers, and Relay requires all of their prospective teachers to demonstrate that on average they can move students about a year’s worth of growth in a year’s worth of time. While this certainly won’t raise the ceiling on teachers’ effectiveness, it can help to raise the floor of what we can expect for the effectiveness of our teachers entering into the field. It’s also worth noting that Relay is the rare program that’s had success attracting candidates of color: 70 percent of teachers in Relay’s residency program nationally identify as people of color, and that figure rises to 95 percent for the Atlanta program in the 2019-20 school year.
That’s why redefinED atlanta was proud to support Relay expanding to Atlanta in 2017. During the 2017-18 school year, Relay worked with principals and principal supervisors from the South Atlanta cluster. Those administrators told their peers about the quality of the program, and demand increased among both school leaders and teachers. As one school leader who was in the original 2017 cohort said, “Relay has assisted me in rethinking the manner in which I interact with teachers and teacher leaders about teaching and learning and improving student outcomes. I have received specific strategies for strengthening culture and academic achievement. I am excited about learning more.”
Led by Atlanta native Christy Harris, a former APS student who was also a teacher and school leader in the city, Relay launched its teacher residency program for the 2018-19 school year. This program provides an opportunity for someone new to the teaching profession — a graduating college senior, a paraprofessional already working in schools, a career-changer — to gain classroom experience with a mentor teacher, gradually assume more responsibilities, and, after two years, graduate with a teaching certificate and a master’s degree in education.
As the third year of this partnership comes to a close, Relay has helped hundreds of educators in Atlanta move into schools and strengthen their practice. redefinED atlanta is proud of the role it’s played in generating a robust talent pipeline for teachers and school leaders. With an eye toward the urgent need to make more progress across Atlanta, we look forward to supporting more prospective educators and further strengthening our city’s schools.
To the 5,000-plus teachers across Atlanta, happy Teacher Appreciation Week!