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A UT student teaches a student at Pond Gap Elementary on a Science Saturday.

The Tennessee Department of Education today 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. “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.”

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.

The partnership will launch its first phase in fall 2020, with Knox County Schools committing to hire 10 to 15 current UT students as paraprofessionals for their internship year for the 2020–21 school year. This group of students, referred to as an Aspiring Teacher cohort, will receive a salary and healthcare as well as earn years toward retirement, eliminating critical barriers for those who could not afford to accept unpaid teaching assignments.

Additionally, Knox County will offer this cohort positions as teachers of record and signing bonuses for the 2021–22 school year, pending good standing as a paraprofessional, completing their degree, and earning appropriate licensure. The cohort students, who are also eligible for UT scholarships, are currently in a K–5/special education dual-certification program and will earn their master’s degree by summer 2021 pending good standing in their program.

“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.”

“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.”

UT joins Austin Peay State University and Lipscomb University as the third higher education institution to form a Grow Your Own partnership, and the department is continuing to explore options to expand the initiative across the state.

“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 close to 600 teachers who collectively teach an estimated 40,000 Tennessee PreK–12 students annually.


Jules Morris (865-974-8916,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,

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