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APSU graduates first students from nationally recognized Grow Your Own teacher residency program

APSU President Mike Licari congratulates GYO grad Malachi Johnson.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – When he was younger, Malachi Johnson always helped his siblings with their homework. He enjoyed coaching and encouraging them, and his family quickly noticed that teaching came naturally to the high school student.

During his senior year, Johnson toyed with this idea of becoming a teacher, but he was nervous about paying college tuition for the next four years. Then one afternoon, he learned about an innovative new program between the Austin Peay State University Eriksson College of Education and the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS).

“My stepmom reached out to me and asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a teacher and told me about the Early Learning Teacher Residency,” he said.

In 2019, Austin Peay and the school system launched the state’s first education residency program, providing 20 recent high school graduates and 20 CMCSS teacher’s aides with an accelerated path to become full-time teachers in local schools. The program specifically targeted minority and first-generation college students, increasing diversity both within the school system and at Austin Peay.

For Johnson, the program provided exactly what he was looking for, and three years later, on Aug. 5, 2022, he earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Austin Peay and began his career as a teacher at Byrns Darden Elementary School.

“It’s crazy because the night of graduation, I go to work for an open house so I can meet my students,” Johnson said. “I am jumping right into it and can’t wait.”

Grow Your Own

On Aug. 5, Johnson joined 40 other members of the first teacher residency cohort in earning a college degree. Over the last three years, this ground-breaking partnership was renamed the Grow Your Own Residency Program, and it proved so successful that it was eventually adopted by colleges of education and school districts across the state. On Jan. 13, 2022, Tennessee became the first state to be approved by the U.S. Department of Labor to establish a permanent Grow Your Own model, with the state’s Department of Education announcing that CMCSS and the Eriksson College of Education would offer the first registered apprenticeship program for teaching in the country.

“We are proud of the work that we’ve been able to accomplish with our partners — CMCSS, TDOE, and the Department of Labor — in charting a new path for teacher education in the state and the nation,” Dr. Prentice Chandler, dean of the APSU Eriksson College of Education, said in January. “We believe that the narrative around teacher education is misleading; people do want to be teachers in our schools, as our residency programs show. We just need to make it more accessible for all. This program is a giant step in that direction. We are honored to be the first in the nation doing this groundbreaking work with CMCSS.”

 In 1975, 22 percent of all college students dreamed of becoming teachers. Four decades later, that number has plummeted to about 4 percent, prompting the CBS Evening News to recently label the national teacher shortage “an education crisis.” Chandler and his colleagues at CMCSS knew there were students like Johnson who were interested in becoming teachers but were hesitant because of the obstacles before them.

With the Grow Your Own program, Austin Peay and the school system took away those obstacles by covering the students’ tuition and hiring them to work as aids in elementary school classrooms with expert teachers.

“I’m working almost as an intern with CMCSS,” Johnson said earlier this summer. “I’m working with students during the day and am getting paid, then at night I’m doing college coursework. This program has helped me gain so much knowledge that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’ve already made great relationships with educators in the local school system that will allow me to have good contacts.”

In the coming years, thanks to Austin Peay and CMCSS’s leadership, more students like him will find their way into classrooms across the state and the country. In October 2020, the Tennessee Department of Education started awarding grants to local school districts to expand and support the Grow Your Own model.

“Tennessee’s leadership in expanding its ‘Grow Your Own’ program is a model for states across the country that are working to address shortages in the educator workforce and expand the pipeline into the teaching profession,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release from the state“Especially in the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, this work could not be more urgent or necessary. I am proud that Tennessee is creating a bold solution to cultivate teaching talent with the support of American Rescue Plan funds, and I look forward to seeing how this apprenticeship program positively impacts teaching and learning across the state.”

The program’s astounding success even landed Johnson on television, where he spoke on the national FOX News about his experience with Austin Peay’s Grow Your Own initiative.

“It was an exciting experience,” he said. “They had given me questions to prepare for ahead of time, but it’s so different once you’re there in front of the camera with all of the lights on you.”

For more information about APSU’s Eriksson College of Education and its Grow Your Own program, visit https://www.apsu.edu/education/.