Tennessee Faces Continued Teacher Shortage As New Educator Graduate Rates Drop

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The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

A newly released report shows that the number of new teachers completing teacher training programs in Tennessee has dropped almost 20% over the last five years.

The Tennessee Department of Education released its latest report card, which evaluates 43 teacher training programs across the state. Their numbers show that only 3,000 individuals graduated from the programs in the 2019-2020 school year, down significantly from 3,700 graduates in 2014-2015.

This decline comes as school systems are already struggling to fill current vacancies and cover COVID-19 related teacher absences. Statistics across the country also show a trend of decreasing numbers as teachers face burnout related to pandemic protocols combined with retirements.

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A House education panel convened last week to look into possible solutions for the teacher shortage. According to Assistant Education Commissioner Charlie Bufalino, there are currently 2,200 open teaching positions across the state, although officials say they cannot give exact details until school districts submit those final numbers this week.

In the fall, Memphis noted more than 200 open positions, while Nashville had more than 80 available spots. 


A recent survey by the Professional Educators of Tennessee notes 22% of respondents as saying they are planning to get out of education. Executive Director JC Bowman says the shortage is a “full-blown crisis.”

Survey responses listed low pay, challenges with student behaviors, lack of adequate planning time, and a demeaning culture of state testing and teacher evaluations as much of the reason.

“It’s clear that there’s a morale crisis,” Bowman said. “Teachers are doing their best, but they don’t feel supported. These are highly educated people who are increasingly walking away to do other things that also pay them more money.”

In a presentation to lawmakers last month, Manchester director of schools Joey Vaughn echoed those sentiments.

“We have to be very cognizant not only of our student needs but of the needs of people working with our kids,” Vaughn said.

A number of new initiatives have cropped up recently in an attempt to find a solution to the teacher issue.

One initiative is the “Grow Your Own” program option for school systems, modeled after the teacher training program developed through a partnership between Austin Peay State University and Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools. Systems will hire prospective teachers in support positions to allow them to be paid while also receiving training and coursework through an approved teacher education program within the state. 

Tennessee also recently announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor to create apprenticeship programs across the state. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona expects this to be “a model for states across the country.”

Another effort to bring in more teachers is an easing of the requirements faced by teachers with out-of-state licenses to transfer those to Tennessee, as well as provisions for a faster pathway for teachers to add special education or English as a second language add-ons to their current endorsements.

Governor Bill Lee has also thrown out ideas to retain current teachers and to entice others to enter the profession. He has proposed an additional $125 million to fund pay raises for teachers and other school employees.

About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative  ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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