Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Teach Not Just for America, but for Yourself

“So, how is school going?” my uncle asked me over the phone last week. “Oh, it’s going well – it’s my last semester, you know,” I said, and my voice trailed off, because I knew the question that was coming next. “Right, right . so have you decided what you’ll be doing after you graduate?”

It’s the question all of our uncles are asking. Our parents, our friends and our professors all want to know. It’s the question taunting us from every recruitment flyer posted on campus. We’ve had four years on the Hilltop, $150,000 worth of papers, presentations and problem sets, and whether we like it or not, we’re moving on to new cities, new lives, new responsibilities, and unless you’re going to grad school, new . jobs?

Thankfully, I’ve reached the stage where I can answer my uncle’s question. “I’m going to be a middle school math teacher in Philadelphia, and I’m going to L.A. for my training this summer.”

Interesting, isn’t it – especially considering that Georgetown has no teacher certification program? I’m a science, technology and international affairs major in the School of Foreign Service – I’ve survived econ, mastered the ap of the Modern World and taken courses in international health, Peoples and Cultures of South Asia and drugs in the third world. But, I came to be a teacher through a program called Teach For America – the national corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in urban and rural schools.

It may not seem to make sense – why am I not trying to get an internship with the World Health Organization or a consulting job? Why am I not trying to go out and do fieldwork in a developing country or pursue my master’s degree in public health? Why teach? And why now?

I first heard of Teach For America from my cousin, Sejal Shah (COL ’96), who was a ’98 Corps Member and taught elementary school in the South Bronx. Through my years at Georgetown, I worked in schools both here in D.C. and in Newark, N.J., and I spent one summer interning at Teach For America’s national office. While I was responsible for organizing a conference, I got to interact with a team of incredibly driven, intelligent and accomplished professionals. They are a group of young New Yorkers developing strategies, setting goals, crunching numbers and designing marketing campaigns all for a vision: One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. Needless to say, I was impressed, and this made me come back to Teach For America and its teacher corps when I began thinking about what I wanted to do after graduation.

Last summer, I decided that I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to go abroad right away. I may still want to go into development work, but I’m not ready to be abroad permanently. Besides, unless it is unpaid field work – which I can’t afford to take up right now – finding a hands-on job that gives me a lot of responsibility and the opportunity to delve into a community is a challenge, especially since I don’t have a master’s degree. And I’m not quite ready for graduate school yet – I want to pursue an advanced degree in public health but would like to get some work experience first.

So, there I was – looking for a job that would pay well enough, that would be meaningful to me, that would allow me to interact with lots of different people, get involved with a community, and that would provide experience and skills that would be valuable to me in graduate school and beyond.

I did a lot of research, made a bunch of charts and even started applications on the Web sites of major consulting firms. But in the maze of career options before me, there was only one job description that continued to appeal to me.

As a Teach For America corps member, I will have a very significant immediate impact on the lives of my students. In my two-year commitment, I will gain the insight, the network and the credibility to effect long-term change. And, I will position myself for success – many former corps members have moved on to careers in fields such as medicine, business, law and journalism with a solid foundation from their two years in teaching.

As a teacher, I will be the CEO of my classroom, engaging with my students and assessing their progress, thinking critically to develop strategies to help my students achieve, planning and presenting lessons, managing my classroom, overcoming tremendous obstacles and interacting with other faculty and administration – these are skills and experiences that are going to be invaluable to me in my career. I will get to know my students and their families, their strengths, their needs and their concerns, and this will help me advance in the field of public health. My Teach For America experience will add a new dimension to my thought and to my work, as I am identifying community concerns and priorities, working in a team to design interventions, and developing health education materials.

My cousin Sejal says her two years as a teacher were the most difficult she has ever gone through. But she also says that it was the best thing she has ever done. Visit our Web site, read about what our corps members are experiencing and what our alumni have gone on to do, both in and outside the field of education. Feel free to e-mail us with any questions you may have.

To the Class of 2004, if ever there was a time when we were to have the determination, the energy and the passion to take on this challenge – to close the achievement gap between low- and high-income communities – it is now. The reality is that the vast majority of students that come from low-income communities will never have the chance to graduate from college like we are about to do, unless, of course, we decide to do something about it. I urge you to step up, start an application and join our movement.

Julie Shah is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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