First Lady commends Tennessee’s ‘Grow Your Own’ teacher pipeline program

For those who want to become a teacher, Tennessee has pioneered a new journey.
Grow Your Own program
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 6:07 PM CDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, a former English teacher, toured Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy in Knoxville and spoke at the University of Tennessee’s campus to see what educators in Tennessee are doing differently to recruit, respect and retain teachers.

“Teaching isn’t just what we do, it’s who we are, right,” Dr. Jill Biden said during her speech at UT, “For all of us who have answered this calling, there’s someone who didn’t or someone who felt like maybe they had to walk away.”

For those who want to become a teacher, Tennessee has pioneered a new journey. The ‘Grow Your Own’ program has strengthened Tennessee’s educator pipeline. Tennessee is the first state to create an apprentice program approved by the Department of Labor.

Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn addressed a crowd that filled the UT Student Union, “Grow Your Own is one of those ideas. It’s a big, bold action step that we can do not just in the state of Tennessee but as a country, something to ensure that anyone who wants to be a teacher, can become a teacher for free and get paid to do so.”

The initiative was Schwinn’s idea.

“We need to respect the profession, elevate the profession, compensate the profession and make sure every single person knows how important it is to be an educator in this country,” Schwinn said.

Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, felt there have been many obstacles in the way of people becoming teachers, such as: student loans, safety, low salaries and large class sizes.

“When we talk about a teacher shortage issue, shortage is a symptom of a teacher respect issue,” Cardona explained.

Cardona said Tennessee ranks above the national average for paying teachers a livable wage but feels salaries could increase more.

“It’s unacceptable for our teachers to have to work two to three jobs to make ends meet, while they’re serving our children and helping our country grow. That’s unacceptable,” Cardona said.

Biden emphasized, “If we want educators to be able to do what they do best, we have to give them the support that they deserve.”

While at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy, Biden and Cardona visited a third-grade class working on spelling and phonics and held a roundtable discussion with some Knox County Schools educators.