While teacher retention is an issue across almost all schools, it’s particularly profound in many urban areas. In struggling urban school districts, parents often turn to private schools as a means of providing quality education to their children. Religious schools are a popular option, both because they’re often more affordable than other private schools and because many parents appreciate the religious values that such schools promote.
As with all schools, one of the key components of a quality religious education is having talented, well-trained teachers. But at Catholic schools—historically operated by religious staff, including priests and nuns, and now largely run by lay personnel—a “lack of good school leaders” ranks among the most pressing problems cited by Catholic school funders surveyed by the Philanthropy Roundtable. One program in Boston aims to help steer young, talented teachers toward Catholic schools.
Now more than 20 years old, the Urban Catholic Teacher Corps (UCTC) is a partnership between the Archdiocese of Boston and Boston College. Through the program, student educators complete a two-year teaching practicum in urban Boston Catholic schools, while living in a former convent and completing a master’s degree at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. The schools benefit from having young, energetic teachers and higher teacher retention rates, while the participants gain experience and a graduate degree.
Tuition, housing, and healthcare costs for participants are covered by UCTC, and students receive a small stipend for living expenses. The program currently receives support from the Flatley Foundation, Peter Lynch, and JoAnn McGrath.
UCTC aims to impart the following four values to its participants:
- Teaching as ministry: Participants volunteer as full-time teachers in urban Catholic schools throughout the program.
- Simple living: Students live together in a community inspired by Catholic teaching, with weekly group meals and faith programming.
- Community: Group members support each other as they experience the highs and lows of first-time teaching.
- Spirituality: In addition to classes, students participate in retreats, pilgrimages, and group prayer.
Placing volunteer teachers into urban schools is a model followed by several high-profile organizations, including Teach for America (TFA), which has placed more than 45,000 volunteers in schools. But almost 40% of TFA alumni don’t continue teaching after their two-year commitment. After five years, only 14.8% remain in the low-income urban school they were assigned to, according to Education Week.
By comparison, the retention rate of teachers who have gone through UCTC is impressive. Of the 34 alumni who graduated between 2012 and 2016, 30 are still teaching and 23 continue to work in Catholic schools, according to America Magazine.
Unlike TFA, UCTC requires that participants have a background in teaching. Students must be admitted to the Master of Education program in curriculum and instruction at the Lynch School of Education, and they must already have a year of student teaching or supervised teaching experience. The focus on both teaching experience and the ability to earn a master’s degree ensures that participants have a serious interest in teaching and encourages them to remain in the profession once they’ve graduated from the program.
Seeing success in education isn’t just about getting teachers in classrooms—it’s about keeping them there, where their talent and passion can benefit students year after year.