Identifying Pathways for All Aspiring Educators

The Tennessee Department of Education announced that, throughout the month of May, Tennessee will spotlight the state’s Grow Your Own initiative, which is inspiring the next generation of future teachers so that every student has access to a high-quality educator in their classroom.   

As a part of the department’s Best for All strategic plan, the Grow Your Own initiative aims to set a new path for the educator profession and for Tennessee to be the top state in which to become and remain a teacher and leader for all. For anyone who has dreamed of becoming a teacher or inspiring a young learner, the Tennessee Teacher Apprenticeship offers the pathway to become a teacher for free and is designed to recruit candidates from the community and for the community while addressing teacher shortages. 

“Since the department first launched our Grow Your Own work in 2019, we have continued to pursue innovative opportunities and remove barriers for aspiring educators to enter the profession,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Throughout May, we are excited to announce additional investments to scale the work statewide, share supporting resources for leveraging the Tennessee Teacher Apprenticeship model, and continue to inspire the next generation of future classroom leaders to accelerate students’ outcomes and opportunities.”  

Launched in March 2020, the Grow Your Initiative has 65 partnerships, which are between school districts and educator preparation programs at colleges or universities across Tennessee that offer free opportunities to become a teacher. Building on this foundation, the state pioneered a new way to develop teacher pipelines as the first state to be approved by the U.S. Department of Labor to establish a permanent Grow Your Own model. Tennessee was the first state in the country to sponsor Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship programs between school districts and Educator Preparation Providers (EPPs), with Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and Austin Peay State University’s program becoming the first registered apprenticeship program for teaching in the country. 


Tennessee’s Teacher Apprenticeship provides a path to becoming an educator for participants spanning experience, background, and age.   

  • High School Students – Students can enroll in an apprenticeship starting at age 16 and earn dual-enrollment credit through sequential Teaching as a Profession (TAP) classes. This helps candidates progress towards their bachelor’s degree while student teaching in a local school district.   
  • College Students – Students enrolled in education majors at a college or university can pivot to an apprenticeship program that offers job-embedded opportunities, increasing wages, and an accelerated degree. Ultimately, they can complete their degree and program in three years or less, with no associated costs.   
  • School-Staff Professionals – Paraprofessionals, instructional assistants, or other support staff based in a school can seamlessly become licensed teachers. Apprentices remain in the classroom, teaching in the district where they will get their degree – receiving increased pay and job-embedded support – all in three years or less.   
  • Career Changers and Retirees – Community members may have an interest in teaching but do not want to take on the associated costs or time with returning to college. Instead, apprentices can complete outstanding coursework, meet required on-the-job hours, earn a living wage, and transition to the classroom full time.  

 Many helpful resources for state and district leaders, education stakeholders and community members to create partnerships and get involved are available here including:  

·         Grow Your Own: Tennessee’s Teacher Apprenticeship Program Playbook 

·         Grow Your Own: Tennessee’s Teacher Apprenticeship Program Workbook 

·         Tennessee’s Grow Your Own Apprenticeship Teaching Model PowerPoint 

·         Grow Your Own Case Study: The Clarksville- Montgomery Model 

·         Tennessee’s Teacher Apprenticeship Model Video: Lasting Solution for Educator Pipeline 

·         Tennessee Teacher Apprenticeship Model Video: TAP Programs 

“Grow Your Own is a program where we can utilize our people and grow them into master teachers. It’s an investment in our community,” said Dr. Angela Huff, Interim Director of Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools. We’ve designed programs to support our candidates from start to finish, and Clarksville-Montgomery is proud to continue this work on behalf of students, families, and teachers for life-changing, transformational outcomes.” 

“Dickson County Schools have enjoyed the partnerships with Nashville State Community College and Austin Peay State University in working to help reduce the impact of teacher shortages,” said Dr. Danny Weeks, Director of Schools, Dickson County Schools. “In particular, we are proud of the work of the consortium with Cheatham and Hickman Counties.  The cohort model allows us to provide customized supports for our participants.   

Facing a shortage of classroom teachers has led our district to make more intentional investments in our staff members, such as creating our “Grow Your Own” program.  Leveraging ESSER and state grant funds, Fayette County Public Schools has partnered with Freed-Hardeman University to provide financial and other resources to teacher assistants in order for them to earn graduate credits towards earning a K-5 and ESL teacher license,” said Dr. Versie R. Hamlett, Director of Schools, Fayette County Schools. “We are committed to expanding our program to involve more employees by forming additional partnerships with local higher education institutions. These GYO staff members are committed to providing better opportunities for students by enhancing their pedagogy and skill set.  It is an honor to provide our staff members a path to become highly qualified, certified educators that will impact our student’s future immensely.”

“The Grow Your Own approach has shown strong results in Tipton County Schools. The program has strengthened our teaching workforce by encouraging individuals in the county to consider meaningful careers as educators – another example of the #endlesspossibilities our students are capable of achieving,” said Dr. John Combs, Director of Schools, Tipton County Schools. “Tipton County students’ futures will be positively impacted for years to come given the educator quality and greater opportunities generated here.”  

“Our Grow Your Own partnerships with Chattanooga State, University of TN at Chattanooga, Lee University and Lipscomb University have been vital in the development and retention of our valued classified staff by offering them a pathway to licensure,” said Dr. Justin Robertson, Director of Schools, Hamilton County Schools. “Thanks in part to these programs, our hiring metrics continue to exceed our goals in our most challenging endorsements. GYO is central to our mission and assists us in cultivating talent to ensure that all children have access to an excellent teacher so that they can thrive and experience a future without limits.”