Bioscience

How Tennessee is increasing the number of math & science teachers

July 25, 2007

By Flinn Foundation

[Source: Beverly A. Carroll, Chattanooga Times Free Press] — Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is committed to expanding a 2-year-old program to fast-track professionals through teacher training to help school districts hire teachers for hard-to-fill math and science positions. “It’s a dirt cheap program,” he said. “It’s been kind of quiet, under the radar.”

Gov. Bredesen funneled into $500,000 Teach Tennessee and the program launched in 2005. Since then, 141 midcareer professionals have been through the streamlined process, according to a state educational report.

State educators rated the program a success, said Becky Kent, director of Teach Tennessee. Ninety-three percent of participants, or 83 of 89, met state qualifications for alternative licenses to teach math or science. “The candidates are helping to fill areas with the greatest shortages, and they can bring things to the classroom that 22- or 23-year-olds might not, such as maturity,” she said. “With their work experience, they can show that what they are teaching means something in the real world.”

Teach Tennessee candidates undergo rigorous screening and an intensive two-week training program before applying for an alternative teaching license. They must hold a degree from an accredited institution and have worked at least five years in a field relevant to their subject area. Candidates also must have a minimum 24 college hours in their subject, with a “B” average, or have passed the state test in the subject.

Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts principal Pam Womack said at first she was concerned about the lack of classroom experience candidates have. But she hired program participant Richard Dube to teach science on a short-term basis at the end of the 2005-06 school year. “I had a chance to observe him, so when an opening came up the next year, I knew I wanted to hire him,” she said. “I probably would have been more hesitant about hiring a Teach Tennessee teacher if I had not been able to see his classroom management.”

Mr. Dube, a former head of Audubon Acres and Reflection Riding, welcomes the opportunity. “(Teaching) had always been in the back of my mind,” he said. “I was always going to conferences and giving talks and teaching people. It was my calling, but I wasn’t always listening. Being in the classroom seems natural, it’s like breathing.”

There are professionals who like Mr. Dube would like to teach but are put off by the amount of time needed to get certified through traditional routes, Teach Tennessee administrators said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen said he was inspired to create the program by his late uncle, who had a reputation as a hard-nosed, conservative businessman but spent about 20 years teaching machine shop skills to young kids in jail. “Uncle Will was just the toughest guy,” the governor said. “He was the one person I thought would be most unlikely to do that. And it occurred to me (that) I bet there are a lot of people who have careers but would love to spend 10 years doing something like that.”

A variety of professionals have entered the Teach Tennessee program to become teachers, including:

  • Engineer
  • College professional
  • Chemist
  • Attorney
  • Accountant
  • Nurse
  • Veterinarian
  • Researchers
  • College president

To learn more about Teach Tennessee, click here.