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FERRIER FILES: Tennessee's teacher shortage becomes critical

(Fox 17 News)

It is teacher appreciation week in Tennessee, and the women who run the college of education at Tennessee Tech are delivering a piece of cake to every teacher in Putnam County.

A big thank you given to a group that doesn't always feel appreciated. Mrs. Davis has been teaching math at Prescott South middle School in Cookeville for 23 years.

"It’s a tough job, and there are lots of expectations," Davis said. "We are looking at 20-some expectations right here. It is a very rewarding job, but there are a lot of people watching you all the time."

We don't want to bore you with statistics so look at just one. College students going into teaching in Tennessee has gone from 12,890 enrolled for teaching degrees in 2008 down to just 6,301 at the end of 2016.

That's a large drop, and no one thinks the numbers are getting better. People are just not going into teaching anymore.

Lisa Zagumny is the dean of education at Tennessee Tech. She trains hundreds of teachers and knows hundreds more. She thinks there are three reasons for the teacher shortage.

  1. low pay
  2. teacher evaluations based on student performance
  3. standardized testing

“Which all leads to low morale,” Zagumny said.

But she has some ideas when it comes to improving the lives of Tennessee teachers.

“I think if we could get back to providing teacher with some autonomy in the classroom that would make a huge difference," Zagumny said. "That would allow them to bring their passion to the classroom rather than preparing their students for standardized tests."

Doesn't that make sense considering many people credit certain teachers with making them the people they are today. Many like Prescott Middle School Principal Trey Upchurch.

“It is the one profession where you can watch what you do evolve over 50 years," Upchurch said. "I can think of my third grade teacher who impacted me as much as everyone in my life. So why wouldn't you invest in that? These teachers are with our kids 35 hours a week. That creates a huge impact."

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