Tennessee is a unique state, not only because we have the greatest citizens, but because of our geography. We border eight states, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage at times. When economic times are good, people want to relocate to our state. When economic times are difficult, it allows residents to move to a neighboring state and pursue more money in their chosen occupation. In education, we lose teachers to our border states regularly.
Effective educator preparation remains critical to the future of education in Tennessee. When we lose teachers to other states, it hurts Tennessee. We must work on teacher retention and continue to offer suggestions on the front end. Also, we must work to have a pipeline of high-quality educators who can move into our classrooms.
We identified prospective solutions in our article Looming Changes in Student Teaching. In that article, we also identified that the existing teacher shortage – especially in special education, math, and science, and in schools serving minorities, low-income students, and English learners – will likely only increase, based on the predicted increase in the school-going population in the future. Colleges of Education must address how to serve Career & Technical Education (CTE). Areas such as business, agriculture, health, automotive, and mechatronics programs need high-quality teachers. Also, we should consider how to better build the skills of paraprofessionals who work alongside teachers in classrooms in critical roles.
One of the other innovative solutions we discussed in our article is one that Professional Educators of Tennessee has been working on with the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS). The district, in partnership with Austin Peay State University (APSU), has a cohort of 40 future teachers who will earn a free bachelor’s degree in only three years, become dual certified in a critical shortage area plus special education, and participate in a multi-year residency experience while being a full-time employed paraprofessional earning a salary, health insurance, and retirement contributions.
In addition, the district plans to partner with Lipscomb University to offer up to 20 future teachers a licensure program that includes a one-year full-time paid residency and dual certification (K-5 and special education) at no cost to the teacher. Through this initiative, these future teachers will also earn a master’s degree in this partnership between Lipscomb and the district. This solution will likely be replicated by districts across the state.
Cathy Kolb, state president of Professional Educators of Tennessee, has long advocated for and assists with the program to recruit and retain educators into public education classrooms. “We believe it is a win-win for our district and our students,” Kolb advises. I would echo the words of CMCSS Chief Academic Officer Sean Impeartrice, “This is the future of teacher recruitment and preparation.” Kolb believes this effort will help “ensure that quality educators enter and remain in the profession in the future.”
This is also a critical part of the agenda that Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn wants to see expanded. Schwinn stated, “If you want to be an educator, you should be in Tennessee. We now have districts where you can get paid to become a teacher, graduate debt-free and be better prepared by spending multiple years in a residency under the mentorship of a great classroom leader,” stated Schwinn. “I look forward to replicating this innovative “Grow Your Own” model across the state.”
The Tennessee Department of Education will be hosting a “Grow Your Own” summit on Monday, November 4 for superintendents to share additional information and provide technical assistance for districts to build their own partnerships and models. We think it is imperative that the state continues to support districts in recruiting and better preparing future teachers, and the “Grow Your Own” partnership is a great new model.
We cannot afford to lose great teacher candidates across our borders. This may also necessitate some changes to teacher licensure. The Commissioner is correct: If you want to be an educator, you should be in Tennessee.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.