Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, today released resources to help systems address widespread teacher shortages by replicating the Tennessee Department of Education’s registered teacher apprenticeship program. In January, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to receive U.S. Department of Labor approval for its registered teacher apprenticeship. Known as Grow Your Own, Tennessee’s model leverages both federal and state workforce dollars, preserving locally designed programs while meeting national apprenticeship standards. The initiative has received national recognition as an innovative solution to the school staffing crisis. Tennessee is pursuing additional, innovative apprenticeship models to ensure every student, regardless of background or location, has access to a high-quality professional.”
The first resource provides an overview of the Tennessee apprenticeship program, including key lessons for those interested in adopting a similar initiative. The second resource is a video featuring interviews with Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, a member of Chiefs for Change, as well as district leaders, a chief academic officer, a human resources director, and Grow Your Own candidates from across Tennessee who describe the program’s impact in their own lives and communities.
“Grow Your Own is one of many initiatives we have launched in Tennessee since the onset of the pandemic to make sure our students don’t just catch up, don’t just keep up, but actually go on to speed ahead,” said Commissioner Schwinn. “Every child deserves a highly trained teacher. Our first-year teachers will now have two to three years of experience before they begin leading their own classroom. I am proud of how our program is helping to fill critical vacancies and is creating a teaching workforce that reflects our students. We are pleased that Chiefs for Change is helping to spread the word about our approach, so that other systems can benefit.”
Tennessee launched its Grow Your Own program to recruit aspiring teachers and provide a path for them to work with veteran educators and earn their bachelor’s degree and teacher certification for free. Under the model, individuals participate in a multi-year residency while serving as a full-time paid paraprofessional with benefits. Once they complete the Grow Your Own program, they have an opportunity to become a full-time teacher in the same district. In the first half of the year, the program has attracted 650 new teacher candidates.
“This program has definitely been a game-changer because I don’t have to worry about having thousands of dollars in student loans,” said Melanie Hammons, a candidate in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System’s Grow Your Own program, who is featured in the Chiefs for Change resources. “From the very beginning, I am in the classroom. I truly see what the job is. From day one, I am working with a mentor. From day one, I am an educational assistant. I don’t just come in to observe and write notes. I am a student teacher for all three years of the program and will graduate certified to be a middle school math teacher with a special education endorsement.”
Pre-pandemic data estimated the national shortage of teachers exceeded 100,000 as enrollment and graduation rates for educator preparation programs continued to decline.
“Historic teacher shortages are creating tremendous challenges at a time when students need more support than ever,” said Chiefs for Change Chief in Residence Bryan Johnson, the former superintendent of Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “The Tennessee Department of Education is not only helping the districts in our state, it is providing a useful roadmap for other states to follow. As we go into summer, K-12 leaders can use the Chiefs for Change overview resource and video to learn about the Grow Your Own model and engage their teams and local partners. Leaders can then read Tennessee’s Grow Your Own Teacher Apprenticeship Playbook and Workbook that can help them build out effective and sustainable staffing plans to meet the needs of this moment and beyond.”
Tennessee’s editable workbook allows systems to assess the subject areas and grade levels that are experiencing or are expected to experience high turnover and vacancy rates; to identify the number of teachers who are needed; and to recruit educators whose background is similar to the students they serve. In addition, leaders can use the tool to determine how well top-performing teachers are distributed across schools, subject areas, and grades and to pinpoint specific opportunities for educator training. Additional resources specific to state education agencies, districts, local workforce boards, educator preparation providers, and community partner needs are available through the Tennessee Department of Education’s Grow Your Own webpage here.
Chiefs for Change operates the largest community of practice for education leaders in the nation and has produced resources, available here, to support K-12 systems in responding to the pandemic. The network advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.