Although teacher education programs have been established at the University of Tennessee for many decades, TPTE as an academic unit is only in its second decade of existence. In 1993, the College of Education restructured the existing academic departments (including Curriculum and Instruction and Special Services Education, the former homes of most of the academic programs now housed in TPTE), into eleven units. The unit governance structure, which was in place between 1993 and 1998, was a part of a major restructuring of the college that also involved reforms to curriculum and instructional approaches. In 1998, the College of Education returned to a traditional departmental structure.
TPTE was formed as a consolidation of four former units. This consolidation brought together programs in special education, elementary education, secondary education, art education, foreign language education and English as a second language under one umbrella department. In 2002, Deaf Education and the Educational Interpreting Program came into the department concurrently with the elimination of the Department of Rehabilitation, Deafness, and Counseling and the merger of the Colleges of Education and Human Ecology. In 2005, the Center on Deafness was moved from the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling into TPTE to unite all deafness-related programs in one academic home. Between 2005 and 2008, programs and faculty in educational administration were also housed in TPTE. In July 2008, these programs and faculty left the department to become the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.