Press Release: Tennessee System Tackles Teacher Shortages with Online Teacher Apprenticeship

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In collaboration with iDesign and C-BEN, UT System launches online version of the TN Grow Your Own teacher apprenticeship, a free pathway for state residents to earn a degree and become certified educators

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 6, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — The University of Tennessee System, which has a statewide enrollment of more than 58,000 undergraduate and graduate students and a presence in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, today announced the launch of a groundbreaking new online teacher training program as part of its Tennessee Grow Your Own Center (TN GYO), the statewide innovative teacher apprenticeship program. In collaboration with instructional design firm iDesign, the new online apprenticeship program will make it possible for aspiring educators to access a $0-tuition, flexible pathway to becoming a licensed teacher, helping to meet the growing demand for qualified teachers in the state.

“Delivering on the promise of a high-quality education for every child in Tennessee requires a bold commitment to expanding pathways into the education profession,” said Erin Crisp, Executive Director of the Tennessee Grow Your Own Center. “Apprenticeships have the potential to revolutionize the way that we recruit, train, and prepare K-12 educators. This online initiative is a significant step towards addressing the critical need for well-trained educators in our state—putting a debt-free pathway within reach for thousands of Tennesseans with the passion and motivation to join the educator workforce.”

Nationally, teacher shortages continue to affect the vast majority of public schools with 86% reporting that they are struggling to hire educators. According to data from the Tennessee Department of Education, there are more than 1,000 vacant teaching positions in public schools across the state. To help close labor market gaps and meet the demand for qualified educators in the Volunteer State, the Tennessee Department of Education launched the Tennessee Grow Your Own Center in 2022 as part of an ambitious $20 million commitment to support educator pipeline initiatives—the first-of-its-kind as a statewide teacher apprenticeship program.

The program connects recent graduates at local school districts with educator preparation programs administered across a network of public colleges and universities. Apprentices earn a wage while they work toward earning a degree and teaching certification that makes them qualified to teach in Tennessee public schools. They do not pay for tuition, books, fees or testing.

The expansion of available curriculum into a fully-online format marks the latest growth milestone for TN GYO, which has built a network of eleven postsecondary providers and over 70 school districts. Already, more than 700 apprentices have successfully enrolled in or completed the program. TN GYO plans to serve an additional 600 new teacher apprentices annually to help strengthen the pipeline of educator talent shortages statewide. In 2022, the state of Tennessee received approval from the U.S. Department of Labor to offer the first federally registered teacher apprenticeship program in the nation.

TN GYO has engaged iDesign and the Competency-Based Education Network to create a set of online learning materials intended to help registered teacher apprentices transition from non-teaching roles at partner school districts to licensed teaching positions. To create an online version of the GYO apprenticeship program, the UT system has selected iDesign, an independent instructional design firm that has worked with faculty members at colleges and universities to build and support award-winning online programs.

Over the course of the next year, faculty and staff from the UT System and its network of partner institutions will collaborate with CBEN and iDesign to create and deliver 16 modules to offer a fully-online teacher training program and make it available to students in rural, urban and suburban districts across the state.

“To turn around the teacher shortage facing public schools, we need to make pathways toward educator certification more affordable, flexible, and accessible—and offer stronger incentives to support teacher candidates to enhance their journey into the teaching profession,” said Dr. Whitney Kilgore, co-founder and chief academic officer of iDesign. “This is about supporting individuals who have a desire to make a difference in the lives of children. While they begin their career working in education, the Grow Your Own program enables learners to earn while they attain their degree and teaching certification. It’s a win-win for teacher candidates, schools, students, and communities.”

C-BEN Solutions Executive Vice President, Lisa McIntyre-Hite, shared, “C-BEN is excited to partner with TN Grow Your Own and iDesign to leverage competency-based approaches that can address the teacher shortage. In 2023, nearly 9 in 10 public school districts struggled to hire teachers, with high-poverty districts facing significant understaffing. By focusing on competencies, we can unlock flexible pathways to the profession and address the shortage to ensure our nation’s learners have highly qualified teachers in the classroom.”

For more information on the new offering, visit:

About the UT System: The University of Tennessee is a statewide system of higher education with campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin, Memphis and Pulaski; the UT Institute of Agriculture with a presence in every Tennessee county; and the statewide Institute for Public Service. The UT System manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory through its UT-Battelle partnership; enrolls about 58,000 students statewide; produces about 13,000 new graduates every year; and represents more than 445,000 alumni around the world.

About iDesign: iDesign partners with colleges and universities to build, grow and support online and blended programs. We are passionate about helping faculty harness the potential of emerging technologies to design courses and degrees that make an impact, whether they are fully online, flipped, blended, adaptive, or competency-based. Our unbundled, fee-for-service model is rooted in a commitment to flexibility and institutional autonomy, while our analytics platform supports continuous improvement through rigorous measurement of student engagement and course quality. From statewide university systems to private colleges, our custom solutions pair instructional design with technologies to enable great teaching. To learn more, please visit

About the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN): The Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) is revolutionizing how we design, experience, and measure learning throughout a lifetime. We believe learning should be measured by what you can do — the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that lay the foundation for your success —and for more than 10 years we have been guiding our expansive network of education leaders, employers, policymakers, and changemakers towards quality competency-based models and practices. For more information, visit


About the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN)

C-BEN is a network of institutions, employers, and experts who believe competencies can unlock the future of learning — making education and training more flexible, responsive, and valuable. We support stakeholders across the spectrum of competency-based learning, from institutions and employers who want to embed competencies into their existing programs to those looking to design full competency-based degree programs from the ground up. For more information, visit

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