TEACH/Here Grads Hit the Ground Running

When Gainesville native Amelia Adams graduated from the University of Florida in 2001 with a degree in plant sciences, she never imagined that ten years later she would be pursuing a teaching license in the state of Tennessee. But looking back, Adams is not surprised that her journey has led her to this point.

Adams’s career path has taken interesting turns from a certified crop inspector to a farmer to a professional chef, but at the core of all her pursuits has always been her desire to make a difference in the world. It was only a matter of time before she responded to the call to teach.

Now, she is among the first seventeen graduates in the new TEACH/Here teacher residency program aimed at improving the learning and life outcomes of students by attracting, preparing, and retaining effective teachers. The program equips participants with significant content expertise in math and science—the subject areas in greatest demand—and preparation for the hardest-to-staff schools in Knox and Hamilton counties.

One of only nine national programs endorsed by the Urban Teacher Residency United organization, TEACH/Here is a collaborative partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences; Knox and Hamilton county schools; and the Public Education Foundation of Chattanooga. The program, co-directed by UT Knoxville professors Susan Benner and Stuart Elston, seeks to address the state’s and the nation’s need for more well-trained K–12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers. A $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Scholarship Program enabled UT Knoxville to launch the program last year.

TEACH/Here recruits new college graduates and mid-career changers like Adams who have backgrounds in STEM disciplines. In a single year, participants earn a master’s degree in their subject area, Tennessee teaching certification, a living stipend, and a guaranteed teaching position upon graduation. In return, participants work at least four years in the school where they did their residency. 

“When I moved to Tennessee eight years ago, I noticed a marginal difference in the math and science programs offered here compared to Florida, and I wanted to be part of the change that this state is undergoing to improve in these critical areas,” Adams says. “If students can understand math and science, they can learn to think critically, analyze real-world situations, and come up with solutions for everyday life. For me, there is no greater way to make a difference in the world than instilling these skills in them.”

Last year, Adams worked side by side with a trained master teacher, Kathryn LaMance, at Gresham Middle School four days a week. She and her fellow participants logged at least 1,700 volunteer hours assisting their mentor teachers throughout the year.  Then on the fifth day of the week and during the summer, participants in the program took classes at UT Knoxville.  Now, Adams is prepared for her first year as a seventh grade science teacher at Gresham Middle School.

“One thing that really stood out to me in observing my mentor was that she stayed current on scientific knowledge and instructional training even after forty years of teaching at the same school,” Adams says. “She is the best example I know of a true lifelong learner, always reading professional science journals or attending teacher workshops during her spare time. I hope to stay that dedicated and focused throughout my career.”

The TEACH/Here partnership is unique to Tennessee and the nation in that it is the only two-site program where each district shares with the other its particular strengths and strategies. UT Knoxville works in both locations, building a shared curriculum that is delivered locally and adjusted locally to be responsive to local context but subject to shared assessments and accountability. Each district hopes to increase its numbers and expand to other subject areas as the program continues.

“Everyone deserves a good education and a good teacher, and students need a solid foundation in science and math no matter what economic status they are in,” Adams says. “If we’re not properly educating our kids on these skills that will help them learn through life, we’re losing out as a state and a country.”

–Sara Collins Haywood