The Tennessee “Grow Your Own” program helps teaching assistants like Monica Angelelli gain certification as licensed teachers, through financial assistance and a flexible schedule for additional training.

When Monica Angelelli first considered becoming a licensed teacher, the goal seemed out of reach.

Angelelli had been a stay-at-home mother for 14 years before becoming a substitute teacher and then a teaching assistant at Farragut Intermediate School. 

The thought of earning a teaching certification, she recalled, “was something that I didn’t know I wanted until I got here. And when it came up I thought, ‘No, I cannot do this. I have four children of my own at home, I’m very busy, I can’t do grad school, I can’t do work at the same time.’”

But her friend and co-worker, Karol Harper, urged Angelelli to consider Tennessee’s “Grow Your Own” teacher apprenticeship, which provides financial assistance and a flexible schedule for TA’s who want to become full-fledged teachers.

Now, Angelelli is on track to earn her license in December of 2023 and a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2024.

“I would not have been able to do it … if I had to quit and not have an income,” she said. “If I would have had to pay for it myself, there’s no way. So it has really changed my life completely.”

Earlier this year, Tennessee became the first state to receive federal approval for a permanent teacher apprentice program. Along with that approval came a federal grant that allows participants to earn their master’s degree at no cost, while also keeping their job and benefits with the district.

The University of Tennessee is accepting applications for next year’s program until Nov. 14. For more information and an application, visit or the UTK College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences website.

Alex Moseman, executive director of talent acquisition for Knox County Schools, said the program allows TA’s who are already doing great work with students to take the next step.

“The ability to have that pathway, where they’re able to continue to work, have classes that are structured around their work schedule, experiences that are embedded in their work day, at no cost to the employee is really really important,” he said. “This program is going to open up a lot of opportunities for folks who really have a heart for giving back to the students in Knox County but might not have had the opportunity, or the barriers were just too great at one point in time.”

As school districts across the country work to attract and retain high-quality teachers – including those in high-need areas such as special education and English Language Learners – the apprenticeship is an innovative approach to identifying talented educators.

Karol Harper, a colleague of Angelelli at Farragut Intermediate, is also participating in the apprenticeship. Harper has an older brother with special needs and said that working in special education was a natural fit for her.

She learned about the apprenticeship program when another participant came to her school for an interview, and said she was excited and relieved to hear about the opportunity.

Asked what she would say to another KCS educator who is considering the program, Harper was emphatic: “Go for it. Don’t hesitate, just sign up and everything will fall into place.”



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