Northeast State forges new teacher apprenticeship with local school systems

Published 10:25 am Monday, December 4, 2023

Northeast State Community College has forged a new apprentice program with two local county school systems to bolster the region’s K-12 teacher workforce.

Northeast State created an apprenticeship pathway for teacher’s assistants/paraprofessionals in the Carter County and Johnson County school systems. These apprentice candidates continue to work full-time while earning college credits to become K-12 teachers.

“We are extremely excited this partnership is beginning to take on and address the teacher shortage in our region,” said Holly Free-Ollard, vice president for economic and workforce development at Northeast State. “Northeast State is about to embark on a new journey in the apprenticeship world; we are excited to have this partnership with these two counties.”

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Northeast State announced this new apprenticeship during a National Apprenticeship Week event held in November at the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Kingsport. Dr. Diana Bowers of Carter County Schools and Angie Wills of Johnson County Schools attended the event to sign the apprenticeship agreements.

The paraprofessional teaching assistants selected as apprenticeship candidates will pursue an associate degree at Northeast State and enter the transfer pathway to earn a four-year degree. The apprentices pursue one of three selected pathways at Northeast State: Early Childhood Education (Pre K-3); the Pre-Teacher Education (K-5); or associate of science degree in Pre-Teacher Education (Secondary Education) pathway.

The new apprenticeship sets forth a two-phase pathway for candidates. In the first phase, students enroll at Northeast State to earn college credits and on-the-job (OJT) training hours while earning an associate degree. In the second phase, students enroll at a four-year institution where they complete necessary college credit hours and OJT hours to earn a bachelor’s degree. The associate degree matriculates all credit hours toward the student’s four-year degree.

“When they get their teaching certificates, they will be teaching with us and staying in our counties,” said Angie Wills, supervisor of K-6, Curriculum & Instruction/Federal Programs at Johnson County Schools. “We are choosing our best teaching assistants to enter the program.”

Dr. Nathan Weber, assistant vice president for academic affairs programs and services at Northeast State, said the new agreement arose to address a shortage of K-12 teachers in the region. Data suggests a significant shortage of K-12 teachers across Tennessee and the nation. According to a U.S. Department of Education report for the 2023-2024 school year, Tennessee’s Pre-K, kindergarten, and K-12 grades reported teacher shortages in the areas of mathematics, social studies, English, science, and art/music education.

“It is the first apprenticeship in teaching for Northeast State,” said Weber. “Prospective students from both school systems have already applied to the college; we will be working with those students individually to develop their schedules.”

In Tennessee, a K-12 teacher is required to hold a bachelor’s degree and earn a practitioner teacher’s license. A teaching candidate must be enrolled in or have completed an approved educator preparation program and meet all professional assessment requirements as specified by the State Board of Education. Both Wills and Bowers noted how teacher assistants and paraprofessionals formed bonds with students and peers as they served their schools.

“Our paraprofessionals have strong roots in the community,” said Bowers, assistant director of schools and human resources for Carter County Schools. “We know they are going to be with us.”