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Grow Your Own Partnership Removes Barriers to Becoming Licensed Teacher

In March, 2020, the Tennessee Department of Education announced a new “Grow Your Own” partnership between Knox County Schools and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to encourage more aspiring educators to pursue the profession and develop a local pipeline of well-qualified teachers who are ready for the classroom.

“This program supports the teacher pipeline problem we see in parts of the state,” said Ellen McIntyre, dean of UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences (CEHHS). “But more than that, we are assured that the new teachers will be well prepared. Knox County Schools and UT have designed an outstanding program to meet this need.”

“We are thrilled Knox County Schools and UT are launching the Grow Your Own partnership to encourage aspiring teachers to pursue the profession,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. “All students deserve a highly effective teacher in their classrooms, and this new partnership will help ensure Knoxville has a strong local pipeline of future educators.”

To continue the development of the “Grow Your Own” teacher pipeline, UT received a $100,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Education in October, 2020. This grant, combined with matching scholarship funds through CEHHS, will fully fund 6-8 teaching assistants to become licensed teachers.

Once accepted into the program, these teaching assistants will continue to work in their schools and earn their salaries, while concurrently completing graduate-level coursework from UT delivered through a distance education model. At the completion of the program, these teaching assistants will receive their teacher licensure in two high-needs, hard to staff areas: Special Education and STEM Education. The combination of grant and scholarship funding ensure that the candidates accepted into this program will be able to become licensed teachers at no cost to themselves: Tuition, fees, books, and required exams are covered by this innovative program.

UT is currently seeking teaching assistants who are interested in becoming a licensed teacher through this “Grow Your Own” pipeline program. To qualify, candidates must:

  1. Be employed as a teaching assistant (or teacher’s aid, or paraprofessional) in one of the following school districts: Alcoa, Lenoir, Maryville, and Oak Ridge City Schools and Anderson, Blount, Knox, and Shelby County Schools.
  2. Have a satisfactory employment record with their employer (preference may be given to candidates based on employment history).
  3. Have a bachelor’s degree (preference may be given to candidates with significant coursework in a STEM field and satisfactory GPA requirements)
  4. Demonstrate the desire to become a teacher licensed in both Special Education and STEM.

The initiative seeks to increase access to and success in the teaching profession as part of the Best for All strategic plan, which sets a vision for Tennessee to be the top state in which to become and remain a teacher and leader.

Candidates who are accepted into this program will begin graduate-level coursework at UT in Spring, 2021, while continuing to work in their schools as teacher’s aids. Coursework will continue through the 2021-2022 academic year, and candidates will complete the program as licensed teachers Summer, 2022.

“At the heart of student learning is our teachers, and we must ensure that there is a qualified workforce to educate the children of Knox County,” said Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas. “We appreciate our partnership with the state of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee and applaud them for recognizing this need. We’re excited to be part of an initiative that we believe will help remove barriers and motivate more young people to pursue teaching as a profession.”

“Innovative programs like this have the potential to transform the important profession of teaching, and I am excited for our university to support and grow this program,” said UT Chancellor Donde Plowman.

For the third year in a row, UT was rated top among Tennessee institutions for preparing teachers to work in the state, according to the 2019 Teacher Preparation Report Card released last month.

UT is one of only nine teacher preparation programs to land in the state’s top overall performance category. Since 2015, the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences has prepared over 700 teachers who collectively teach an estimated 50,000 Tennessee PreK–12 students annually.