As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, it’s important to acknowledge the crucial role teachers play in improving student achievement and do all we can to support Tennesseans who aspire to the teaching profession.

Tennessee school districts are struggling to recruit highly effective teachers as we continue to see a shortage in our teacher pipeline. After consulting with students, educators, leaders, and other stakeholders, SCORE identified cost as a critical barrier for many Tennesseans who aspire to the teaching profession.

A recent educator preparation program (EPP) affordability study found that paying off existing student loans was the most cited concern for prospective teachers. In Tennessee, the average student debt for teachers attending public EPPs is more than $34,000 — almost equal to the current statewide teacher salary of $40,000.

Recent action by the Tennessee General Assembly Tennessee is a positive step toward reducing the financial burden for teacher candidates and strengthening the teacher pipeline.

The Tennessee Future Teacher Scholarship Act (SB1220/HB0432) is a $4.5 million investment to pilot a teacher scholarship to pay full tuition and fees for Tennessee juniors and seniors enrolled in an EPP. To be eligible, students must graduate from a Tennessee high school, be eligible for the HOPE scholarship, maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.75 while enrolled in the EPP, and agree to teach for at least four years in a high-need county or a subject area with a critical shortage in Tennessee after graduation.

When we look at the data relating to the teacher pipeline, it’s apparent this action is needed, and that Tennessee must do more to ensure every student has access to a highly effective teacher.

  • The number of individuals completing EPPs in Tennessee has declined by 40 percentage points since 2011.
  • Less than one-third of Tennessee’s future educators are receiving training in high-demand subject areas.
  • In May 2022, about 2,700 educator positions across the state were left vacant, filled by an individual on a permit with no formal teaching training or filled by a licensed educator without the proper subject-area training and expertise.

Over the last four years, the number of instructors teaching on an emergency credential increased from 561 to 1,955, yet fewer than 20 percent of these permit holders actually earned their license to teach permanently last year.

Tennessee has a strong track record of supporting effective teaching, creating strong foundations through rigorous standards for teacher preparation and evaluation, and using innovative development strategies such as Grow Your Own programs and the state’s Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship. The state has also invested in increasing teacher salaries, with additional investments in the governor’s final budget this year. The Tennessee Future Teacher Scholarship will build on this foundation and help strengthen the teacher pipeline immediately.

As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, the impact of teachers on student achievement is more critical than ever, especially as we work to close the achievement gaps that widened during the pandemic. SCORE looks forward to working with education stakeholders across the state as we continue to build Tennessee’s teaching profession and advance success for students. We proudly honor and support our educators during this important week of recognition and beyond.

Dr. Sharon Roberts is SCORE’s chief K-12 impact officer.