May 15, 2009
When Rachel Jessee learned she was accepted to Teach for America, the first person she contacted was her high school math teacher.
"She was a terrific algebra teacher. She made me love math enough to become a finance major," says the Cox School of Business graduate.
Jessee is one of 18 SMU graduating seniors who will spend the next two years with Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits and trains outstanding college graduates to teach in low-income rural and urban public schools. They join more than 6,200 “corps members” who are teaching in 1,600 schools across the country. This year more than 35,000 students applied for 4,000 Teach for America positions.
Teach for America’s goals include the elimination of education inequality in public schools, an issue Jessee understands well. Her parents were foster parents to five children as she grew up. When one boy joined their family, he could not read.
"Growing up with foster siblings and seeing firsthand the inequality in public schools really contributed to my decision to apply to Teach for America," says Jessee, who will teach high school math in Los Angeles.
SMU’s Teach for America recruits will begin their training in June, then disperse to schools in districts ranging from New York City to Memphis to San Francisco.
This year, for the first time, Teach for America will bring its teaching corps to the Dallas area. Abigail Baer, an advertising major with an art history minor in the Meadows School of the Arts, is one of seven SMU students helping launch the effort.
"Since I’m from the Dallas area, I’m excited to give back to the community I grew up in," says Baer, who will teach elementary students at an Arlington, Texas, charter school. "I want to teach young students the basics they need to read. I think they'll teach me, too."
Making an impact
John Matthews, who will teach high school math in the Mississippi Delta, plans to model his teaching style after a favorite SMU marketing faculty member, James Kindley.
"He sparks lots of interest in the class," says Matthews, a double major in finance in the Cox School and psychology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.
Matthews was inspired to join Teach for America after volunteering with at-risk youth while studying in Australia with SMU’s education abroad program. He also hopes to gain knowledge and skills to help with his long-term goal – to work in community redevelopment.
Rachael Morgan, who will teach at an Atlanta elementary school, already has been admitted to the University of Chicago Law School, where she plans to study constitutional law when her appointment ends. The next two years of teaching will be demanding but incredibly rewarding, says Morgan, a double major in political science in Dedman College and journalism in the Meadows School.
"Teach for America means the chance to challenge yourself while giving back to the country. It's a chance to make a difference," says Morgan.
Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, gave the Raggio Lecture at SMU in 2007. Read the story, including links to blogs by SMU participants in Teach for America, and hear the lecture (mp3), "Classroom Calling: Inspiring a New Generation of Teachers."
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