(U-WIRE) ITHACA, N.Y. – Michael Shapiro, class of ’03, plans to go to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon, but after graduating Cornell University as a biology and society major last May, he put those plans on hold to join 2,000 other college graduates in the quest to improve the quality of education in America’s public schools.
“I had [been a] TA at Cornell and I enjoyed teaching,” Shapiro said. “I always thought it would be really cool to teach science for a little while. Teach for America was a way for me to help the community I’m from, and it lets me experience the real world.”
Teach for America is a national corps of college graduates who commit two years to teaching underprivileged children in urban and rural communities facing socioeconomic challenges.
Shapiro has been assigned to teach science to eighth-graders in the South Florida community he grew up in. It is only his first week as a full-time teacher, but so far, he’s keeping his classes under control.
“So far, so good,” he said. “It was a little hectic at first, but after teaching summer school as part of my training, I was pretty confident going into school here. I was definitely nervous on the first day, though.”
Molly Buckley, Teach for America’s eastern recruitment director, said that ideal candidates possess tremendous critical thinking skills, a record of achievement both academically and in other areas and personal responsibility.
“We’re looking for people who we would consider to be promising future leaders and who will go above and beyond in their two years in the classroom to impact their students’ lives. We welcome people of all majors and backgrounds and all areas of career interest,” she said.
A teaching degree is not required, as corps members get a five-week crash course in teaching during the summer before they begin teaching. Teach for America’s rigorous training program provides members with basic teaching skills and experience and requires them to work with experienced teaching professionals and attend a series of workshops and discussions.
As a member of the 1999 Teach for America Corps, Buckley taught English and social studies to middle school students in Washington, D.C. She had majored in English at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and was interested in a career in public policy within a school district.
“What really appealed to me was that I was going to get to do this right away. I was 21 and I was going to be in control of my classroom, and at the end of the year it was up to me whether my students were up to grade level,” she said.
Buckley added, “In addition, I was really attracted to the network of these 800 other people who were smart and passionate and equally motivated to take on this challenge.”
Princeton University graduate Wendy Kopp founded the corps in 1989 to help close the achievement gap between children growing up in low-income areas and high-income areas. Since 1990, more than 9,000 college graduates have participated.
Each year, graduating Cornell students help make up the corps. Last year, Kopp visited Cornell and addressed over 300 students in Barnes Hall on the goals of Teach for America and on the characteristics recruiters look for. Subsequently, 137 seniors from the Class of 2003 applied. Twenty-eight are currently participating in different communities nationwide.
According to Teach for America’s student campaign coordinator, Tiffany Scott ’04, the program has become a more popular option for graduates each year.
“With the economy being so tough now, it has been really difficult for students to find jobs, so Teach for America is a great solution. It offers a competitive salary and benefits. Plus, it is acknowledged by … top-ten law schools and graduate schools who offer a two-year deference to students who participate,” Scott said.
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