published Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Hamilton County seeking motivated teachers

Project Inspire director, Mark Neal, left, talks with graduate Whitney Bradford, center, and her husband, Jon Dickerson, in this July 2013 file photo.
Project Inspire director, Mark Neal, left, talks with graduate Whitney Bradford, center, and her husband, Jon Dickerson, in this July 2013 file photo.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hamilton County is looking for its next batch of hyper-motivated math and science teachers.

Project Inspire is seeking 15 recent grads or career changers to enter its urban teacher residency program, which puts teachers in a classroom for one year to co-teach alongside a master teacher. Candidates need no educational experience, though math and/or science knowledge and enthusiasm are key. While in the program, participants take master's courses and receive a teaching license.

The program is an educator's version of a medical residency, which operates on the philosophy that students learn by doing. It's currently seeking individuals to teach fourth- through 12th-grade math and science in Hamilton County's urban schools. Candidates must apply for the 2014 program by March 15.

Unlike other alternative teacher training programs, Project Inspire is recruiting long-term teachers. Some programs only require short commitments of participants. Teach for America, for instance, requires a two-year teaching commitment. Project Inspire participants must agree to teach here for four years in high-need schools.

Director Mark Neal said the program is highly selective about entrance and the training is different and more intense than a traditional teachers college. He said teacher residencies are helping to elevate the teaching field into a profession.

"And in order to do that, we have to both raise the bar on the candidate we seek and on the performance we expect from them. It's a big ask," he said. "It's demanding. It is a rigorous clinical experience. You're under the microscope. And with good reason."

Aside from the right knowledge base, officials expect a certain passion of candidates, who eventually will be placed in some of the county's toughest schools.

"You have to have a really patient personality and passion behind what you're doing. It's not easy a lot of days. You have to have the passion to really see it through," said Whitney Bradford, a math teacher at Orchard Knob Middle School, who completed her residency last year.

Bradford majored in business and furniture design in college. She ran her own marketing company and then moved to South Korea with her husband to teach English. That's what sparked her interest in getting into teaching. Project Inspire just helped her find her place.

"I'm getting better every day. It's really a rewarding thing," she said. "I'm where I'm supposed to be."

Project Inspire is a nonprofit effort that works in partnership with the Public Education Foundation, Hamilton County Schools, Tennessee Tech, AmeriCorps and First to the Top, the state department of education's $500 million, grant-funded school reform effort.

So far, Project Inspire and its predecessor, TEACH/Here, have trained 25 individuals to teach in Hamilton County Schools. Neal said 22 currently are teaching in the school system. Another six will graduate this year.

That may not seem like large numbers for a system with thousands of teachers. But some university education programs are only pumping out secondary math and science teachers in single digits.

And even small numbers can make a big impact, said Stacy Stewart, Hamilton County's assistant superintendent for human resources.

"You have to think about how many kids a rock-star teacher could influence in a 30-year career," she said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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