The Tennessee Department of Education announced in a press release it has pioneered a new way to develop teacher pipelines. As of Thursday, the Volunteer State is the first to be approved by the U.S. Department of Labor to establish a permanent Grow Your Own model, with the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and Austin Peay State University’s Teacher Residency program becoming the first registered apprenticeship for teaching in the country.

Tennessee is also the first state in the country to sponsor Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship programs between school districts and Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs), which will further the state’s and nation’s efforts to extend the teacher pipeline and address teacher shortages, according to the statement. Apprenticeship programs, the press release notes, are high-quality, industry-driven, work-based learning pathways that provide individuals with hands-on work experience while earning a wage that increases during the progression of the program.

This new program builds on the state’s 65 existing Grow Your Own initiative, which offers free opportunities to become a teacher, currently operating in Tennessee and clears the path for any other state or territory to launch similar programs with federal approval, the press release notes.

“As the first state to establish a permanent teaching apprenticeship program, Tennessee has a unique opportunity to lead the nation in education and workforce development,” Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said in a statement. “These apprenticeships will create a pipeline of experienced teachers with valuable on-the-job training and help ensure quality education for generations of Tennessee students.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona also released a statement on the news, saying, “Tennessee’s leadership in expanding its ‘Grow Your Own’ program is a model for states across the country that are working to address shortages in the educator workforce and expand the pipeline into the teaching profession. Especially in the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, this work could not be more urgent or necessary.”

“I am proud that Tennessee is creating a bold solution to cultivate teaching talent with the support of American Rescue Plan funds, and I look forward to seeing how this apprenticeship program positively impacts teaching and learning across the state,” Cardona concluded.

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Kaitlin Housler is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].