Eight 2013-14 Hamilton County teachers graduate from Project Inspire, a STEM class

Eight 2013-14 Hamilton County teachers graduate from Project Inspire, a STEM class

July 26th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Project Inspire director Mark Neal, left, talks with graduate Whitney Bradford, center, and her husband, Jon Dickerson, Thursday at Public House.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Eight 2013-14 Hamilton County teachers have at least one thing in common: None of them set out to become teachers.

These eight graduated from Project Inspire on Thursday as part of a plan to get better teachers into Tennessee classrooms. The program is a joint effort among Tennessee Tech University, Hamilton County Department of Education and Public Education Foundation.

It is part of the umbrella STEM project, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which recruits industry professionals and turns them into classroom teachers.

Mark Neal, director of teacher residencies for the Hamilton County project, compared the graduates to sports team athletes, preparing to take the field.

"I've thought of you graduating residents as a great bench," he said during the commencement celebration. "Which all great teams have."

Graduates said the program should not be mistaken for traditional student teaching.

"The assumption is it's a longer version of student teaching," graduate Jason Rust said. He said unlike traditional student teachers, STEM residents are in the classroom on day one.

"It's a good situation to actually get a good understanding of what you're getting into," he said.

Fellow Tyner Middle Academy resident Conor Brown said the residency gave him an immediate look at what teaching really is.

"It's not sugar-coated at all," he said.

All of the residents attend full-time master's degree classes at Tennessee Tech's Chattanooga State campus and work full-time in Hamilton County schools during the one-year residency.

The graduates are committed to four years at a Hamilton County school after graduation.

That commitment keeps those high-quality, expertly-trained teachers at home, Christa Payne, vice president of PEF Chattanooga, said. Just last week the mother of a Tyner Middle Academy student confirmed that, she said.

"I know PEF," the lady said. Her son had a STEM teacher. "It was the best math teacher he ever had," Payne recounted.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731.