Tennessee’s teacher preparation programs are producing fewer new educators

The number of new educators graduating from teacher education programs across Tennessee has fallen by nearly one-fifth in five years, with most of the decline occurring before the pandemic, according to a new report.

The latest report card on Tennessee’s 43 teacher education programs shows just over 3,000 prospective educators graduated in the 2019-20 school year, up from about 3,700 in 2014-15.

The troubling trend, which mirrors national declines, comes as many districts struggle to fill teaching vacancies and keep classrooms staffed due to teacher absences caused by COVID. The state also predicts a major teacher exodus over the next decade due to attrition and a wave of retirements.

Teacher supply was on the minds of state lawmakers Tuesday as they considered ideas to address the shortage.

Deputy Education Commissioner Charlie Bufalino told a House panel on education that the state has about 2,200 vacant teaching positions, though other estimates put the number much higher. Education Department officials told Chalkbeat they could not provide details until this week, which is the deadline for districts to submit information on teaching vacancies.

Tennessee’s largest district said it opened more than 200 teaching positions in Memphis in the fall. And in Nashville, the state’s second-largest district, currently has more than 80 full-time teaching vacancies.

Tennessee’s head of professional educators called the shortage a “full-fledged crisis.”

“We are pushing people out of the profession faster than we can replace them,” said general manager JC Bowman.

About 22% of Tennessee educators responding to a recent poll by his group said they plan to leave education.

Low pay, a punitive culture of student testing and teacher evaluations, student discipline challenges and a lack of planning time are among the reasons, Bowman said.

“It is clear that there is a morale crisis,” he said. “Teachers are doing their best, but they don’t feel supported. They are highly educated people who are leaving more and more to do other things that also bring them more money.

“Teachers are drowning,” Joey Vaughn, principal of Manchester Schools, said during testimony last month before state lawmakers on the impact of the pandemic. “We have to be very aware of not only the needs of our students, but also the needs of the people who work with our children.”

With teacher preparation programs producing fewer potential hires, Tennessee is considering several new initiatives to help replenish the ranks.

The state has paved the way for school systems to develop “build your own” training programs similar to that developed by Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools and Austin Peay State University. Although programs vary by district, they generally hire prospective teachers who can work in a school in a support role and be paid while pursuing their education and credentials through a teacher education program.

And last month, Tennessee leaders announced a partnership with the US Departments of Education and Labor to establish teacher apprenticeship programs across the state.

US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called Tennessee’s efforts “a model for states across the country.” On Friday, he is due to host a roundtable in Nashville to discuss ways to strengthen and diversify the teacher pool.

The State Board of Education has also relaxed requirements for out-of-state teachers to obtain licenses in Tennessee. And it added pathways to fast-track degrees for teachers to transition into special education and English as a second language, two high-demand areas.

As for compensation, Governor Bill Lee has proposed investing an additional $125 million next year in the fund that provides salary increases for teachers and other school workers.

“Anything we can do to bite into the apple, we do,” said Department of Education spokesman Brian Blackley.

Some good news was highlighted by the State Board of Education in its annual newsletter.

Executive Director Sara Morrison credited teacher education programs — from colleges of education to non-traditional programs like Memphis Teacher Residency and Teach for America — for recruiting more diverse cohorts and encouraging students to earn bachelor’s degrees in subjects. in high demand.

Since 2016, training programs have increased the number of candidates graduating to teach special education, English as a second language, and high school math and science by 6 percentage points.

There has also been an increase in the number of newly trained teachers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“These positive trends reflect the intentional work of (educator training programs) in Tennessee,” Morrison said.

Marta W. Aldrich is senior correspondent and covers the Chalkbeat Tennessee State House. Contact her at maldrich@chalkbeat.org.

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