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Grow Your Own program brings nontraditional teachers into the classroom

Sandra Caltrider teaches science at New Providence Middle School in Clarksville, Tennessee. She is part of a program called "Grow Your Own," which is bringing teachers with nontraditional employment and education backgrounds into the classroom.
Attracting new teachers to the profession is becoming increasingly harder. The National Education Association says the U.S. faces a shortage of 300,000 teachers and staff.
For three years, those in the 'Grow Your Own' program take college-level classes, while working alongside a mentor teacher.
Posted at 8:09 AM, Oct 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-04 11:55:57-04

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — It's time for science class at New Providence Middle School. Sheila Holt and Sandra Caltrider are tasked with making sure the students in their class make the grade.

"I feel like I'm making a difference,” Holt said. “And I love this age group; they are so funny."

Caltrider sees the impact she is having on the students.

"When you help them and they get it, it's just an awesome feeling," Caltrider said.

While Holt has more than 20 years of teaching under her belt, Caltrider is just starting out, and she is doing so in a unique way.

"I didn't go to college before this, because it was it's a big chunk of money and I had my daughter,” Caltrider said. “And so, probably without this program, me personally, I probably wouldn't have been able to [teach]."

Now, though, she's on her way to becoming a teacher through a program called Grow Your Own. It's a Tennessee program now attracting national attention.

"The way we modeled our program was just like an apprenticeship,” said Sean Impeartrice, chief academic officer for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, near the Tennessee-Kentucky border.

The program started there before expanding across Tennessee. It's designed to bring people with nontraditional backgrounds into the teaching profession.

"For one reason or another, there was a barrier to go back to school to become a teacher,” Impeartrice said. “But they had a passion and many times the aptitude and the interest to do it."

So, for three years, those in the program take college-level classes, while working alongside a mentor teacher. Sheila Holt is Caltrider's mentor teacher.

“You're in that classroom every day. I didn't get that when I did student teaching. I was in there for a semester,” Holt said. "I think they're absolutely better prepared for the classroom."

"I think the national narrative out there is people do not want to go into teaching and, if you look at traditional pathways, that's true,” Impeartrice said. “But we had 188 candidates for 80 spots last year."

Now, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Labor are taking notice and want to expand the program across the country.

"We can now use federal dollars under apprenticeship programing," said Penny Schwinn, Tennessee's Commissioner of Education. "This really started with one district and a partnership that they formed with a local Higher Ed that's now expanded across the state and now across the country. And so, I think when we really see those strong, innovative practices, you really have to take hold of them and find a way to scale them so that everyone can benefit."

Back in Clarksville, Sandra Caltrider is ready to eventually take on the challenge of being at the head of the class solo.

"I really do like teaching them science," she said. "I have learned that, that I can do it. It's just time, effort— a lot of effort and hard work, and it pays off."