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APSU graduates second cohort of teacher residents

By: Megan Simpson August 10, 2023

Kyoung Eun Grace Lee during her commencement.

Kyoung Eun Grace Lee remembers spring 2020. As a West Creek High School senior, COVID-19 quickly upended many of the traditional end-of-year milestones. Fortunately, she did have one thing to look forward to – her acceptance into the Grow Your Own Teacher Residency, a partnership between Austin Peay State University and the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. As a part of the program, participants earn a teaching degree at no cost while working as full-time educational assistants in local schools.

“I’ve always planned on becoming a teacher since I was in third grade, because I had a wonderful third- and fourth-grade teacher, and she inspired me to pursue the career of teaching,” Lee said.

Lee joined the second Teacher Residency cohort after encouragement from her high school principal. She joined more than 30 other students in the program, including other recent high school graduates, community members and CMCSS classified employees. 

I thought, this is the best thing that could have ever happened to me because I love teaching, and I love helping people,” she said.

Lee began working at Ringgold Elementary during the pandemic. She faced the new challenges of contact tracing and social distancing while learning about classroom management and lesson planning.

“I think that although it was a blur, I learned so much and we got through it,” Lee added. “It really helped me think on my feet.”

GYO spotlight

Each participant is matched with an experienced mentor educator throughout the residency. Lee said these mentors are one of the best parts of the program. Her first mentor, Nicole Schroeder, provided lesson planning autonomy, while her second mentor, John Saslofsky, gave her the confidence and support she needed to succeed.

“Because of that, honestly, I feel like I’m so prepared for my first year of teaching,” Lee said. “I think the Ringgold community was a really big contributor to me feeling like I was safe and that I could really make mistakes and grow on my own.”

Lee also credits the APSU and CMCSS Teacher Residency Program faculty and staff for getting her to the finish line. The constant support from program leaders with advising, studying and EdTPA preparation allowed Lee to navigate the fast-paced coursework while working full-time.

“They were so supportive, giving us words of encouragement and showing us that they cared by coming to the schools,” Lee said. “I feel like face-to-face interaction is very important. They were very big contributors to our success.”

The Grow Your Own Teacher Residency is the first federally recognized teacher apprenticeship in the nation, and now 21 states have launched similar programs to help address teacher shortages. The program is working for CMCSS, with 31 teacher residents awarded bachelor’s degrees, Friday. These new graduates will work in CMCSS elementary and middle schools.

“The Grow Your Own Teacher Residency has allowed over 70 hardworking individuals in Clarksville-Montgomery County to become teachers,” said Dr. Prentice Chandler, APSU Eriksson College of Education dean. “Our Grow Your Own Teacher Residency program is successful because it benefits both aspiring educators and local schools. APSU and the district partner to train motivated, committed employees from Day One, while the teacher residents receive a free education with wraparound support from Grow Your Own faculty, staff and their school mentors.”

For those interested in joining the next Grow Your Own Teacher Residency cohort in Clarksville-Montgomery County, CMCSS will make application information available here. Additional APSU Grow Your Own Teacher Residency information is available here.

As for Lee, she is jumping right into her role as a certified teacher. After donning her cap and gown on Friday at APSU’s graduation, she spent the afternoon preparing for an open house at Ringgold Elementary where she will teach fourth grade math and science this year.

“It’s right where I want to be,” Lee said. “This program really gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream.”

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