Tennessee Bets on Grow Your Own Programs to Help Strengthen and Expand Its Teacher Workforce

Blog Post
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages
June 22, 2021

As school districts and states across the country work to recover and rebound from the impacts of the pandemic, federal funding has helped fill gaps and spur new programs aimed at addressing long-standing issues. In August of last year, Tennessee leveraged funding from the CARES act to launch a statewide Grow Your Own competitive grant program with the goal of increasing the supply of the state’s teacher workforce and increasing access to teacher pathways.

With a second round of grant funding made available this spring (thanks to ESSER funds), the state is supporting a total of 14 educator preparation programs and 63 school districts to expand or develop Grow Your Own (GYO) programs. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) estimates that their $6.5 million investment will provide a tuition free pathway to over 650 future teachers.

“We want to become the first state where you can become a teacher for free and get paid to do so. That is our dream,” shared David Donaldson, chief of human capital at TDOE.

Indeed removing financial barriers is one of the program’s non-negotiables—grant funding must be used to cover the cost of tuition, fees and books for program participants. Competitive preference is awarded to grant applicants who also plan to cover the cost of licensure exams. Other non-negotiables include that candidates must be paid when engaged in their clinical internship (often a multi-year residency) and that they must earn dual certification to include grade- or subject-area certification and special education or English as a Second Language certification.

To be sure, designing a competitive grant program is no easy task, but Donaldson and his colleagues at TDOE had a local program model to look at when developing the grant. The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) had an existing partnership with Austin Peay University for a teacher residency program designed to help graduating high school seniors and classified school staff, such as paraeducators, become licensed teachers, which became the basis for the statewide model for GYO.

Launched in the 2018-19 school year, the residency program at CMCSS was designed to increase the number of highly-effective racially diverse teachers in the district and address teacher shortages. At the time, about 50 percent of CMCSS students were students of color and only 16 percent of teachers were teachers of color.

Sean Impeartrice, the district’s chief academic officer, noted in an interview that the district tried strategies such as recruiting from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), but that it was a strategy being used by other districts. “We recognized there was an opportunity in our diverse community to utilize the talent force that is in place here,” he said.

Impeartrice and his colleagues began by learning about GYO programs in other states, such as the Fresno Unified School District’s teacher pipeline programs and Pathways2Teaching in Colorado, and Nashville’s Teacher Residency program. Residency programs were appealing because of their focus on job-embedded learning and higher retention rates among teachers prepared through the approach.

Today, CMCSS offers three residency programs: a three-year residency for classified staff, high school seniors and community members to earn a bachelor’s degree plus certification and licensure in elementary education and special education; a one year residency for classified staff and community members who already have a bachelor’s degree to earn teaching certification and licensure in middle/secondary education with a focus on math or English language arts; and a one-and-a-half year residency for classified staff and community members to earn a master’s degree, certification and licensure in elementary education and special education. The three year program is offered in partnership with Nashville State Community College and Austin Peay University, while the shorter residencies are offered in partnership with Lipscomb University.

The three-year BA elementary residency program provides a faster track into the classroom for aspiring teachers with a variety of built in support, including a cohort model and academic scaffolding. The program is structured so that participants take two classes at a time for a period of eight weeks including throughout the summer. Classes are held on Mondays and Wednesdays, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for review sessions where students can ask questions, get clarification and work on assignments. The district also utilizes the higher education AVID model to provide an additional layer of academic support, covering topics such as focused reading and structured note taking. These strategies gradually decrease as the participants progress through the program and demonstrate success in their coursework.

Given that many of the program participants are first generation college students, providing these supports is an essential part of the district’s role as their recruiter and employer. According to Impeartrice, “It’s educational malpractice to invite them to college and then not support them. Especially when they are working and going to college. We have to be that support.”

A key element of the program is the partnership between the district and educator preparation programs. It is not always easy given that school systems and universities are not always accustomed to working together towards a shared goal. CMCSS relies on their higher education partners to not only deliver coursework but to be active partners in ensuring the success of the candidates in the program. To that end, it is an expectation that they allow the district to see the grades that residents earn so that they can track their progress and provide support as necessary.

The state grant program is designed to incentivize partnerships and the development of innovative pathways into teaching. These innovations include developing multi-year teacher residency programs that move beyond the traditional approach of preparing teachers—at a low cost of around $10,000 per candidate. Tennessee has an advantage because the state has multiple scholarship programs that help make community college free. Students in the three-year residency program at CMCSS attend Nashville State Community College for their first two years at essentially no cost and then transfer to Austin-Peay for their final year.

By promoting GYO as a statewide strategy, leaders in Tennessee are ensuring that programs, such as the ones offered by CMCSS, are not just a one off experience and can be replicated throughout the state. As they look forward, both Donaldson at TDOE and Impeartrice at CMCSS are eyeing the role that apprenticeship could play in preparing teachers and providing additional funding streams to help build a well-prepared racially diverse teacher workforce. For those interested in the expansion of teacher pathways through GYO be sure to keep Tennessee in your view.

Related Topics
Teachers Grow Your Own