Making good on a promise made last year, the National Science Foundation gave nearly $3 million to a joint Hamilton-Knox counties' teacher residency program called Teach/Here.
The money will provide $10,000 living stipends to Teach/Here residents while they're in their first year of the program, observing a mentor teacher. They'll get an extra $10,000 each over the next four years.
Program director Cheri Dedmon estimates the money will cover the first two classes for about 10 teachers each for the length of their time in the program.
The first-year grant of $10,000 helps with living expenses, Dedmon said. The extra money in years two through five is because of supply and demand.
"Staffing math and science teachers in general is very hard to do. Hamilton County begins the year with vacancies in math and science because you can't find enough candidates to fill those positions," she said.
Program directors also hope the stipends will encourage retention among the residents, who all must commit to teaching math or science for four years at a high-poverty, hard-to-staff school, Dedmon said.
"A lot of teachers get into high-needs schools and get frustrated because they don't feel prepared or that there isn't support. ... Once you find them, they don't stay long," she said.
But in the Teach/Here residency year, "they're being mentored, so they're staying in the classroom for the whole year," she said. "On the front end, they get a lot of experience from a mentor teacher."
After taking over one or two classes for a week the last two months, the residents now are designing lesson plans for when they take over a full load of classes for eight weeks starting in January.
Wendy Jung, principal of Tyner Middle Academy, one of the schools where residents have been placed this year under the guidance of mentor teachers, said having the extra teachers in her building has allowed for more science and math labs, more hands-on teaching and more intervention.
"These people are getting experience while they're training, so they'll already be experienced in best practices for middle-schoolers," she said. "The only thing I'm sad about is that they'll all be reassigned next year."