My Journey to Teaching in Tennessee

Dr. Lisa Barron

Dr. Lisa Barron
Associate Dean
Director of Teacher Education
Austin Peay State University

How my Journey to Teacher Certification in TN Started

Even though I went to college to be a teacher, I never really thought it would be my career. Immediately after graduating, my husband and I moved out of the country, and we pursued other interests and career paths. When we moved back after ten years, I found myself rather reluctantly applying to a school district to teach. However, I found myself interested in teacher certification in Tennessee. Here is an account of my journey to Tennessee certification.

Teaching in Tennessee

One of my most vivid memories is my first day of teaching. I could show you the classroom and the spot in the room where I was nervously standing when I faced my first group of students. At that point, I was struck by a strong feeling that teaching was what I was meant to do.  I quickly discovered a passion and enthusiasm for teaching that persists today. This passion led me to pursue graduate degrees in education.

Originally, I planned to earn a master’s degree, which had been a goal ever since I started teaching. My master’s degree involved learning about new teaching strategies, effective assessment practices, and teaching learners with special needs. Halfway through my master’s degree program, I realized I wanted to continue my graduate education; within four years, I earned a master’s, educational specialist degree, and a doctorate in education. I am currently working on my second master’s degree! Lifelong learning is part of being a teacher, and effective teachers want to continually learn so they can better support their students.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Being a lifelong learner led me to pursue certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). NBPTS certification is the highest level of certification available in the United States. It is a rigorous process, but it is one of the best professional development experiences I have ever had. Through this process, I reflected on my teaching and constantly analyzed if my methods and practices were best for my students.  Additionally, if they were not, what could I do to improve? Everything about this process centered on the impact I had on my students. 

I wrote about my students, who they were, their prior learning, their needs, and their challenges. I demonstrated that my lessons were designed specifically for each student’s needs. This year-long process to become National Board Certified was a pivotal moment in my career, and one that I would recommend to anyone in the teaching profession.

Higher Education

Shortly after earning my doctorate and National Board Certification, I had an opportunity to shift from teaching and administration to preparing teachers in higher education. This was a difficult decision because my heart was with my students at that school. However, considering the larger picture, my impact on students and teaching could extend far beyond the local elementary school. Just as I had that moment in my first day as a teacher, I knew I was in the right place when I took this leap. My passion for teaching not only continued but has grown in this role.

Benefits of Certification in Tennessee

There are so many reasons to earn your Tennessee teacher certification! First, it is a rewarding career. 

  1. As a teacher, you will continue to learn and grow in the profession. Schools in Tennessee regularly offer professional development for their teachers.  Teachers never quit learning! 
  2. There are diverse educational settings in Tennessee. These include rural areas as well as urban areas. Teachers who value diversity, equity, and inclusion will thrive in Tennessee.
  3. The State Board of Education and Department of Education are committed to getting teachers into classrooms. Therefore, they provide support for prospective teachers and alternate routes to tn teacher certification. 
  4. Finally, the education field is always changing, with new policies, new initiatives, and new research-based strategies. Every day is different, and every student has individual needs and strengths.

Progressing in the Profession

There are multiple ways to progress in the teaching profession in Tennessee. You can earn graduate degrees, which many school districts reward with pay raises. Some schools and districts also offer pay incentives for achieving National Board Certification. Tennessee provides multiple ways to be a teacher-leader, from serving as a mentor teacher, curriculum coach, reading specialist, or moving into administration. The path that you take as a teacher is up to you!

Student Impact

Perhaps it sounds cliché to say that I teach because I want to impact students, but it is so true. Everything I have done as a teacher, from that first day teaching in an elementary school to now working as an Associate Dean in a state university, has been about students. I want to impact student learning, and I want to form relationships with my students that will go beyond the classroom. 

One of the joys in my life is running into former students who tell me they still remember my class and how I impacted their lives. I tell my university students that, on hard days when they are teaching, to remember their “why.” Remember why they wanted to be teachers. Remember why they chose this profession. For most of them, it is because they remember a special teacher who impacted their lives, and they want to do the same.

General Requirements for Certification in Tennessee

There are different pathways to earn a teaching certification in Tennessee. All pathways include content and pedagogy coursework. The coursework varies according to what subject area you are planning to teach. Tennessee also requires you to demonstrate your content and pedagogical knowledge through certification tests. These assessments may include Praxis and/or edTPA, depending on what pathway you choose.

The clinical experience differs for each pathway. Student teaching usually requires a semester teaching in the content and grade level of the license you seek.   The state allows for job-embedded clinical experience for those who already have earned a bachelor’s degree and are hired by a school district. They work as teachers while completing their requirements, which may include coursework and Praxis exams. The third type of clinical experience in Tennessee is an internship, which is an extended clinical experience (1-3 years) while completing coursework and assessments.

Grow Your Own/Apprenticeship Pathway to Certifcation in Tennessee

Austin Peay State University and Clarksville-Montgomery County School System were the first in the nation to be recognized as a federally registered teacher apprenticeship. This apprenticeship was developed out of a Grow Your Own program that the university and school district collaboratively launched in 2018. In this program, teacher apprentices are hired as paraprofessionals with full pay and benefits. Working alongside excellent mentor teachers, they also take coursework from the university in the evenings, earning their 4-year bachelor’s degree in an accelerated 3-year format. After passing their licensure assessments (Praxis and edTPA) and graduating, they are hired in the school district as teachers.

How can Passage Preparation™ Help You Prepare for Certification in Tennessee?

Studying for Tennessee teacher certification tests can be stressful. When prospective teachers begin to prepare for their tests, a large part of their stress can relate to finding the right study materials. Passage Preparation provides comprehensive courses to prepare you for your certification test and ensure your test-taking needs are met. Here are some of my testing tips and tricks: 

  • Map out your study plan. Not only is the content important to know to be successful on the Praxis or edTPA Exam, but backward mapping is also an important skill as an educator. It is crucial to spend significant time reviewing the material. Passage Preparation’s asynchronous courses allow you to develop a study plan that best fits your personal and professional goals and responsibilities. By mapping out your study plan, you can accommodate for your current schedule and still master the content and standards you are required to demonstrate on your Tennessee certification test. 

Review and evaluate your progress on your study plan as you prepare. Passage Preparation’s assessments throughout the course will help you determine content that you should revisit to develop mastery.

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About the Author: Nathan Estel

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Nathan has over 20 years of experience in the educator preparation and certification space. In that time, Nathan has worked in a state education agency, leading the state’s efforts to recruit, prepare, license, and retain professional and support staff and on the national level for large companies providing assessment solutions for the education field.

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