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Teach for America welcomes new corps members

August 04, 2008

Jeanne Simons graduated from ASU in May with a degree in human communication and a minor in history.

Not an education course on her transcript.

So why has she already signed on to teach seventh grade English at Gateway School in the Creighton School District in Phoenix?

Simons answered the call of Teach For America, an 18-year-old organization that trains recent college graduates of all majors to be classroom teachers and asks for a two-year commitment to teach in urban and rural public schools.

Teach For America operates rigorous five-week summer preparation institutes in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and Phoenix that enable the new corps members to develop the foundational knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to be effective beginning teachers. Phoenix, with the help of ASU, hosted its charter Institute this year, and Simons was one of the approximately 650 corps members to attend.

The Institute held its closing event at ASU Gammage July 17, with presentations by five corps members and opening remarks by Sarah Kirby Tepera, managing director of the Phoenix Institute.

The students all lived in Hassayampa Academic Village and were bused to the schools where they were student teachers. After their days in the classroom, they returned to the ASU campus for seminars and study.

Judging from the closing event at Gammage, the corps members had developed tight bonds during the five weeks at ASU. Each school team had developed cheers, and each tried to out-do the others, turning the event into a giant pep rally.

But the cheers were really for education, the corps members said.

Tepera noted that the student-teaching experiences were most likely humbling for the corps members. “You were not entirely successful at something for the first time in your life,” she said. “But you accepted the challenge. You did not turn away. You have seen the students succeed. You are ready!”

One corps member said the five weeks of student-teaching was “the hardest thing I have ever done,” while another said he discovered that teaching is ”a complex and demanding job, and it’s okay to need help.”

Simons said she decided to join Teach For America because “I truly believe in their mission statement and the idea that one day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education."

Simons said she appreciates the value of a good educational system. “I did not come from a position of privilege or power, but was lucky enough to live in a strong school district.”

Zak Ringelstein, who graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in history/human rights, joined Teach For America because he believes that education “provides people with a ‘way out.’

“It has the ability to empower a person, a family, a nation and a world. It gives people the freedom to live, explore and wander this earth out of passion, rather than out of necessity.”

He now is teaching fourth grade at Udall Elementary School in Phoenix.

More than 14,000 Teach For America alumni, with stories much like those of Simons and Ringelstein, are working inside and outside the field of education to promote excellence and equity in education.

Approximately 200 of the 650 new corps members will remain in the Phoenix area to teach, and most will enroll in ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership to work toward master’s degrees in education.

ASU hosted the Institute as part of our larger partnership with Teach For America, said Amanda Burke, associate director for education and education policy in the ASU Office of University Initiatives ­ and a Teach For America alumna herself.

“To my knowledge this is the largest conference ASU has ever held, and it was a tremendous success thanks to a year of planning and the incredible work of ASU leadership and staff from across the university.”