[ teaching & learning ]

Buffalo teacher residency expands to meet growing demand

By Sylvia Saunders



hen Cristina Mata was working as a special education teacher aide in Williamsville, she knew she wanted to become a teacher — but wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

A bilingual Mexican-American who grew up in a small border town in Texas, Mata had moved to Western New York with her husband, who grew up in Buffalo. While working as a teacher aide and taking undergraduate Spanish courses at the University at Buffalo, one of Mata’s professors, Erin Kearney, told her there was a huge shortage of world language teachers and suggested she look into UB’s teacher residency program.

“It was a perfect fit for me,” said Mata, who noted the program’s fast-paced schedule, hands-on learning and support system set her up for success — and an immediate job offer to be a Spanish teacher in Buffalo City Schools.

Cristina Mata and Kacy Wandel smiling for a picture in a classroom
Cristina Mata, left, mentors first-year French teacher Kacy Wandel, who recently graduated from the University at Buffalo’s teacher residency program.
The main feature of the program is a one-year clinical experience working with a mentor teacher who is able to provide guidance and support throughout the year, Mata said. The summers before and after the one-year school placement are packed with teacher education and content courses, along with preparation for certification exams.

The program’s $18,000 stipend was also a big plus, making it possible for her to commit to the full-time immersive experience and complete her master’s degree in just 15 months. “With such an intensive schedule, I can’t imagine how I would have been able to keep working full time,” Mata said. “The stipend made it financially feasible.”

Mata, who still touches base with her mentor Meredith Anthony at least once a week, was one of 13 residents in UB’s first cohort in 2019. Since then the program has grown every year and was recently awarded a $3.5 million federal grant to expand its reach in neighboring Sweet Home, Amherst and Kenmore-Tonawanda school districts.

“The UB residency program came about by looking at the issues of teacher quality, teacher retention and teacher diversity,” said program director Amanda Winkelsas, a member of United University Professions–Buffalo. “We’re proud that our program has been able to recruit and collaboratively prepare excellent teachers who come from racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse backgrounds.”

With a nationwide teacher shortage, NYSUT is making a big push for expansion of teacher residency programs like UB’s. NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said it’s crucial to provide meaningful mentoring to give new teachers a strong start and improve retention rates.

For Mata, the residency program gave her a taste of teaching in an urban setting, where she believes she’s likely to stay. “I feel like my kids want me there and need me there,” she said. “I feel like I’m where I belong.”