On a recent morning, 18 people from a variety of career fields – including auto repair, construction, nursing, and culinary arts – gathered in a South Knoxville classroom.
While their professional backgrounds varied widely, their goal was the same: Learning to be an effective teacher.
The attendees were part of the KCS Educator Preparation Program (EPP), which trains industry professionals to be teachers, and provides financial incentives to help them receive certification.
The goal is to not only cast a wide net in identifying and recruiting outstanding educators, but also to find non-traditional candidates with expertise in career fields that are in high demand among employers.
A good example is Griffin Vann, who has been a registered nurse for 21 years and last fall began teaching health science, medical therapeutics, and nursing education at Fulton High School.
Vann said that as a mother of young children, she wanted to be on their schedule, and that she has always loved working with kids. As part of the Educator Prep Program, she works as a teacher at Fulton, while attending several after-hours classes each semester. During the summer, her cohort also attends a week of intensive training.
Vann said the program has been challenging, and helped her realize how hard teachers work.
“There’s a lot of organization behind the scenes that you don’t think about when you just go sit in a class,” she said. “When I was in school, I had no idea how much behind-the-scenes work goes into a lecture or a lab or a class session … This is teaching you how to do that, so that when I stand up in front of a classroom I am confident and organized and I know what I’m doing.”
The EPP training sessions are designed to help participants sharpen skills that they’re already using in the classroom, and gain insights from their peers.
During a recent session at the Sarah Simpson Center, instructor Ulla Carr – the district’s EPP supervisor – asked about the best way to re-engage students who have been working in small groups. The attendees joked about bad ideas – an air horn, for example – while also discussing serious strategies, such as a raised hand or short clap that would prompt students to respond with a similar action.
At the end of the discussion, participants took several minutes to journal on laptops, answering discussion questions about issues and challenges related to problem-based learning.
Carr said participants in the KCS program join the district – or work for other school districts – using a practitioner occupational license, but after three years they move to a regular professional license.
The KCS program is less expensive than many traditional college programs, and teachers who work for the district for three years are reimbursed for the full cost – which not only benefits the participants, but helps KCS meet its retention goals.
Carr said the program is also aligned with the district’s 865 Academies initiative, which aims to prepare high school students for enrolling in college or trade school, enlisting in service to their country, or finding high-wage employment immediately after high school.
Whether a student is interested in a college-bound pathway such as Information Technology or STEM, or a career pathway such as automotive repair or cosmetology, Carr said teachers with industry experience can help instill a sense of passion for that field.
Moving from an industry position to the classroom is also an investment in the broader community. Lauren Longmire, director of regional enhancement for the Knoxville Chamber, said the EPP is an important way that Knox County is taking tangible steps to retain and prepare the future workforce.
“By providing a high-quality, low-cost training option, the KCS EPP is making it possible for professionals to leverage their industry experience in a K-12 setting,” Longmire said. “At a time when the nature of work is shifting, it’s exciting to see the school system find new and dynamic ways to invest in both our current workforce and future workforce.”
Rob Stivers, market executive of Regions Bank and the Knoxville Chamber’s vice chair of talent, said the 865 Academies are the future of secondary schools within KCS, adding that “I’m excited to see that KCS has a program to help people translate their industry experience to catalyze the impact of the 865 Academies.”
At Carter High School, one educator who is leveraging that hard-earned experience is Jess Sherrod, who teaches welding as part of the school’s advanced manufacturing pathway.
Sherrod worked in industry for more than 20 years, eventually becoming a certified welding inspector and working in management positions at facilities in Jefferson City and Morristown.
He said it’s difficult to find good employees with the necessary skills for success – showing up on time, using tools like a tape measure efficiently, and working respectfully with colleagues “even in situations where it’s not really that calm.”
But Sherrod also has been impressed by the leadership qualities of students he’s worked with in the classroom, and is excited about helping give them a foundation for success.
“When given the chance and the opportunity and the understanding, these kids will take the lead, most of them will,” he said.
Interested in moving from an industry position into the classroom? The KCS Educator Preparation Program is accepting applications, and candidates who enroll by July 21 can participate in the 2023-24 cohort. For more information, visit our website.