Teaching in Tennessee

Tennessee has a rich civic history. It’s where the first colonial constitution was written, as well as where the first abolitionist papers were published. The state is home to the nation’s oldest African-American architectural firm, as well as the oldest African-American financial institution. Additionally, Tennessee was home to three United States presidents. And of course, Tennessee is also the home of much great musical innovation, from bluegrass to rock-and-roll to The Grand Ole Opry.

Educators in Tennessee get to teach this civic tradition, and enjoy the state’s musical heritage. The state is in need of educators, with its colleges and universities not quite keeping up with the demand for new teachers. Many new teachers are coming to Tennessee from other states to become involved in its current educational reforms and developments. Perhaps you will become one of them.

What’s the education climate in Tennessee?

One of only two states to win generous grants in the first round of President Obama’s Race to the Top program, Tennessee is actively pursuing a variety of means to improve education across the state. Indeed, Governor Bill Haslam has expressed the hope that educational reform would be the legacy of his term.

Average Salaries for Tennessee Teachers
  • Elementary School: $46,260
  • Middle School: $46,270
  • High School: $47,830
  • All Tennessee jobs: $39,130

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

One of those educational reforms is Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system, which replaced a system that only evaluated tenured teachers twice every 10 years. Now, all teachers are observed several times a year; and principals are required to provide more support to novice teachers. Evaluations are based upon a mix of classroom observation, growth in student test scores, and locally selected achievement measures. This measure should ensure a higher quality of education, and more accountability.

The state also supports more individualized approaches to contract negotiations, instead of collective approaches. This means that Tennessee unions no longer have exclusive power in negotiating teacher contracts. School boards can now make policy and personnel decisions without having to gain union approval. Teachers may still use collaborative bargaining, but no single union can usurp the prerogative of any non-union teacher.

In order to further pursue its more state-specific strategies, Tennessee was granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. The state’s plan identifies four key areas of reform: assessments, accountability, school improvement, and school turnaround. In regards to assessment, the state will use a less test-intensive program than NCLB, and focus instead on longer-term student-growth measures. Regarding accountability, Tennessee has replaced NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress system with independent state teams, which in turn will be able to provide more accurate and direct feedback for school improvement and turnaround.

Also on the school-improvement front, the State Collaborative on Restoring Education (SCORE) task force identified four priorities in its 2011-2012 report to continue the improvement of Tennessee schools:

  • Sustained policy leadership—continue to build on the successes of the new teacher evaluation and feedback system, to develop better educators
  • Professional learning for educators—improve opportunities for professional development with programs that are ongoing, content-specific, job-embedded, and collaborative
  • Improving teacher preparation programs
  • Improving means of attracting solid principal and administrator leadership
How’s the job outlook for Tennessee teachers?

According to the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research, the projected growth for teaching jobs in Tennessee is higher than the projected numbers of new credentialed teachers from Tennessee colleges and universities. This means that teaching will be a high-demand occupation in the state through the next decade.

Elementary schools are expected to be the most immediately impacted by job growth. Tennessee is projected to need some 1,300 new elementary teachers each year, to account for both growth and replacement needs as teachers retire or leave the profession. However, the state’s colleges and universities graduate slightly less than 1,000 new elementary school teachers annually. Clearly, the state is going to need to encourage more students to major in this field, or attract more teachers from other states.

What benefits do Tennessee teachers have?

Tennessee’s low cost of living makes the state one of the top 10 in the nation in terms of teacher comfort. Moreover, the state has no income tax, so Tennessee salaries go farther than those in other states.

Tennessee teachers receive a choice of health-coverage options, as well as plans for vision, dental, and life insurance. They are also enrolled in the state’s retirement plan. Full benefits are available at the age of 60 (after 30 years of service), or reduced benefits for early retirement (55 at the earliest). Another benefit of teaching is the schedule: Teachers get about 15 weeks of vacation annually, and never have to worry about working on holidays.

Some districts in Tennessee also provide their teachers with laptop computers for work. The laptop includes software for grading, scheduling, word processing, spreadsheet, and internet, to make the logistical aspects of teaching easier, and to promote technology in the classroom.

Several organizations in Tennessee (see Tennessee Teacher Organizations below) are devoted to teacher development, and to providing educational resources to Tennessee teachers—including substitute teachers. These organizations often publish and discuss research on teaching programs and techniques, and often offer classroom activities or curriculum supplements to improve teacher performance.

What are the credentialing requirements in Tennessee?

In order to be licensed to teach in Tennessee, applicants must have completed a teacher preparation program at a bachelor’s level or higher at a regionally accredited institution, whether inside or outside of the state. Any teacher preparation program will include a period of student teaching, which may take as long as an entire semester. Additionally, applicants must pass both the Praxis I examination (demonstrating basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics) and the Praxis II appropriate to their subject.

An apprentice teacher license is issued to teachers who have completed all the requirements, and is good for five years. (Alternatively, an out-of-state teacher license is issued to those who completed their teacher preparation programs in another state.) After three years of teaching experience in Tennessee (and receiving positive evaluations), teachers may apply for their professional teacher license, which is valid for 10 years and is renewable.

Additional details and information on the certification process can be found at the Tennessee Teaching Certification website.