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A temporary bout of hearing loss gave Lisa Tackett a taste of the struggles deaf and hard-of-hearing students experience daily in school.

Lisa Tackett
Lisa Tackett

“I had wonderful teachers, but I saw how difficult it was to not be able to have full access to information the teachers were trying to provide me,” said Tackett, of Oliver Springs, Tennessee.

That influenced her decision to become a teacher for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Tackett and eight others will graduate this week from a program in UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences that is helping to expand educational opportunities for deaf youngsters in the Southeast and rural Appalachia by increasing the number of deaf education teachers in the region.

“They’re not broken and do not need to be fixed,” she said. “They just have limited access to sound.”

Tackett and her peers will graduate with master’s degrees in deaf education and various licensures through the Tennessee Education of the Deaf Personnel Preparation Project, based in the UT Center on Deafness.

Tackett, who will be licensed to teach science to students in seventh through twelfth grade, said she is excited to have the opportunity to “share my love of science with deaf students.”

The UT program, established through a federal grant in January 2014, is designed to address the shortage of certified teachers for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The grant provides up to five years of funding for teacher education, including a paid internship, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and licensure. In exchange, participants must commit to at least two years of service for every year of support received.

The current group of students is the UT program’s second class of graduates. Of the first class of eight that graduated in 2014, all but one are already teaching in schools across the region and the country, said David H. Smith, associate professor and director of the Center on Deafness.

Ashley Paul

The program helps participants to become advocates as well as teachers and to provide much-needed support to students who may already be feeling defeated, said Ashley Paul, of Columbia, Tennessee.

“It’s important we’re there to advocate for them especially when they’re young and don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves,” she said.

Mandy Burnside works with a deaf prekindergarten student.
Mandy Burnside works with a deaf prekindergarten student.

Mandy Burnside, who graduates this summer, wants to return to her hometown of Maryville, Tennessee, to work with students. As a hard-of-hearing student during her elementary, middle, and secondary school years, she struggled as teachers didn’t always know how to meet her educational needs. She wants to help teachers more effectively serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

“They shouldn’t have to fight as hard as I did,” she said. It’s been my passion to help those deaf and hard-of-hearing students get the support they need in school. I want to let them know they’re capable of doing whatever they set their mind to.”

The program has already awarded scholarships for its third cohort, beginning this summer. Smith noted the program is actively trying to recruit a more diverse group of students, including people of color and men.

“In deaf education, 80 percent of the teachers are white females,” he said. “Teachers should be a reflection of the student body.”


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,