Alumni in Teaching Call on Amherst Students to Join Their Ranks
2010 recipients of the Class of ’54 Commitment to Teaching fellowship share their stories of inspiration and frustration teaching in America’s public schools.
Teaching fellowships, such as Teach for America, are a common path taken by recent Amherst College graduates. Nonetheless, these programs are designed to only place graduates in the classroom for one to two years, not necessarily launching them into a career in teaching. The Class of ’54 Commitment to Teaching Fellowship encourages Amherst students to seriously consider careers in teaching, by recognizing and supporting alumni “who have chosen to teach in urban and other school systems where students may be considered ‘at risk’ or are socio-economically disadvantaged.”
The seven alumni who spoke to a group of interested students at the Amherst College Career Center are all career educators, and sought to inspire current students, who may not look seriously towards teaching as a career, to join their ranks. They recognized, however, that promoting careers in America’s urban public schools can be difficult sell, particularly to students with a myriad of options. The panelists, as well as moderator James E. Ostendarp Professor of English Barry O’Connell declared that America’s public schools require a large infusion of teaching talent to overcome the plethora of challenges they face.
These challenges range from disinterested school administrators, to the equivalent of 40 days a year that Martina Meijer ’06 must spend administering practice state exams to her class of fourth graders in New York, even though she knows that time would be far more beneficial for instruction. Dale Henry ‘00E, who teaches children with autism in Los Angeles, explained that his Amherst education helps him to devise innovative solutions to everyday obstacles in the classroom. Recognizing that his students learn better through interaction, Henry uses Skype, a video conferencing program, to connect his classroom to another across the country.
The panelists took varied paths to becoming full time educators after leaving Amherst. Emmalie Dropkin ’07 and Meijer entered teaching fellowships shortly after graduation, while Nancy Hawa ’05 attended Columbia Law School before discovering teaching. Although most teaching fellowships coincide with a two-year Master’s degree in Education, the panelists, including Dropkin and Meijer, agreed that acquiring significant teaching experience before attending graduate school better prepares educators to get the most out of masters programs.
Despite the challenges they face in American public education, panelists also illustrated that great rewards come alongside setbacks and challenges. Oftentimes, according to Hawa, a special education teacher in New York City, the victories are ostensibly small, but actually profound, such as “teaching a seventh grader to multiply, who never thought they could, that’s a big deal.” Teaching, according to the panelists, produces immediate results from your labor, manifested through their students learning.
Taylor A. Perkins ’11 is a staff writer for the CCE. He is a Political Science and Black Studies double major, and runs the quarter mile for the Amherst Track and Field team.