1. On the 2022 survey, sixty-two percent of teachers identified counseling, psychological, and social services as one of the most urgent needs at their schools from a student readiness perspective.

This percentage has steadily increased since 2020. In addition, nearly half of teachers identified counseling, psychological, and social services as the most useful supports provided by their coordinated school health program. This support rose to the top of teachers’ lists, above other important resources like health services, physical education, nutrition, and employee wellness. According to the American School Counselor Association, best practices for student mental health include having one school counselor for every 250 students. While counselor-to-student ratios across the country have improved slightly over the last few years, they have gotten worse in Tennessee. In the 2021-22 school year, Tennessee had one counselor for every 458 students. Two years before, Tennessee had one counselor for every 301 students. Additional ways to support student mental and social-emotional well-being include replacing exclusionary school discipline with restorative practices and implementing inclusive curriculum.

2. School administrators struggled to fill vacancies with high-quality teacher candidates.

The 2022 survey shows that 72% of administrators reported not having a large enough pool of applicants to choose qualified candidates for open teaching positions. This finding aligns with available teacher shortage data. In the 2021-22 school year, Tennessee had more than 1,000 unfilled teaching positions across the state. Additionally, more than 1,300 people are currently teaching with temporary permits or waivers instead of full teaching licenses. It is difficult for schools and districts to prioritize teacher quality and teacher diversity when there are not enough candidates in the first place. One effective way to improve teacher recruitment is to reduce the financial barrier to teaching. During the 2023 legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers filed bills to reimburse educators for licensure assessments and to provide tuition grants to diverse teaching candidates. Tennessee is also exploring Grow Your Own apprenticeship programs, which use partnerships between districts and Education Preparation Programs (EPPs) to provide affordable pathways for local candidates to become teachers.

3. Tennessee continued to retain teachers of color at a lower rate than White teachers. 

A 2020 TDOE report about educator retention found that 83% of White teachers were retained in their same school from the 2017-2018 school year to the following year, but only 2 out of every 3 Black teachers were retained in their schools. The TN Educator Survey provides a window into current teacher retention trends, including teachers’ plans to stay or leave their schools the following year. In the 2022 survey, only 69% of teachers of color said they planned to continue teaching in their current school, compared to 78% of White teachers, which is a 9 percentage point gap. When comparing past survey data and staffing data, TERA found that teachers’ predictions of their plans tend to be accurate. These retention rates contribute to Tennessee’s lack of educator diversity, which impacts students because teachers of color are associated with better academic and social-emotional outcomes for students of color. Only 13% of Tennessee teachers are teachers of color, but 39% of its students are students of color.

4. School administrators reported that student discipline took up more time than any other activity. 

In the 2022 survey, nearly 1 out of every 3 (29%) school administrators said they spent at least 20% of their time on student discipline during an average week. Only 17% of administrators gave that response in 2021. For comparison, fewer than 1 out of every 5 administrators reported spending 20% or more of their time on instructional leadership, teacher evaluation, or general school management in 2022. Research shows that schools have significantly fewer disciplinary referrals when school climate is stronger, meaning that students feel safe, receive positive encouragement from school staff, and see that their teachers have high expectations for them. School leaders can positively impact school climate by building trust among teachers, engaging with families, and facilitating an empowering and encouraging environment for teachers and students. Resources like cohort-based professional development and individualized coaching can support school leaders in this effort. 

5. Teachers reported wanting more curricular materials to support students with disabilities and English Learners.

The Tennessee Educator Survey asks teachers whether their districts provide the curricular materials they need to support different student groups. On the 2022 survey, 38% of teachers said their district did not provide the materials they needed to support students with severe disabilities. Similarly, 31% of teachers said their district did not provide what they needed to support English Learners. In both cases, these numbers are higher than the results from 2021. English Learners may only make up 8% of Tennessee students and students with disabilities make up only 13%. However, nearly all of Tennessee’s teachers said they work with at least one English Learner (80% of teachers) and one student with a disability (91% of teachers). The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) reported to the State Board of Education (SBE) last year that special education was one of the top areas for teacher vacancies, and English as a Second Language (ESL) positions were commonly filled by people using permits or waivers. Given this trend, it is especially important to provide resources and training to teachers who do not have formal licenses and endorsements to support both student groups.

Equity Considerations

  • Teachers indicated that counseling and psychological services are the most urgent need in their schools. Governor Lee’s 2024 budget proposal recommends new funding for mental health resources, including $8 million for school-based behavioral health liaisons
    • Does the proposal for behavioral health liaisons meet the need that teachers identified? How will TDOE track the impact of the behavioral health liaisons on student well-being? How will these funds be allocated to districts? Will this be a recurring line item that districts can count on?
  • Teachers cited a need for more training on working with students who have mental health needs and trauma. In 2021, Governor Lee renewed funding for the Mental Health Trust Fund
    • What programs does the Mental Health Trust Fund currently support? Will the funding be used to support the training needs educators identified, such as more counselors and psychologists in schools? , and How will the availability and impact of the trust fund be communicated to educators, policymakers, and stakeholders?   
  • Research indicates that students of color perform better when they have teachers of color, yet teachers of color are more likely to exit the profession. 
    • Detailed, current information on teacher retention is important for policymakers to take informed action to maintain or revise policies. What actions will TDOE take to respond to teacher concerns in the survey? How will they regularly inform policymakers about strategies to address teacher vacancy data so they can strategically approach recruitment and retention efforts, especially for teachers of color?
  • Teachers identified a need for more curricular materials to support students with disabilities and English Learners.
    • While students with disabilities tend to be evenly distributed across districts, some districts have more English Learner students than other districts. How can TDOE promote between-district sharing of best practices for supporting these students?