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Berea Alumni Join Teach For America

Teach for America recently paid a visit to Berea College's campus with the hope of interesting students in their program. Two recent Berea College graduates have already found a home with Teach For America. The following is an interview conducted by Audrey Giesler with Berea alumni Taylor Ballinger (07) and Shaina Ricketts (07).

AG:Why did you decide to join Teach For America?

SR: I have always wanted to teach, but I was not interested in majoring in Education. Teach for America seemed like just the right program for me.
I myself have struggled in an education system where the Achievement Gap was not only evident, but also hitting very close to home. As someone who grew up in a low socioeconomic area, helping youth achieve things that they never thought possible was, is now, and has always been my greatest passion. Just looking at the mission and the beliefs of the organization led me to know that Teach For America would be the perfect place for me to help others who are now in the same situation that I once was.

TB: I decided to join for a number of reasons. I wanted to engage in some form of public service immediately following my college experience, and TFA seemed like a great opportunity to serve young people and work for educational equality among all students. I also wanted to see what life was like outside Kentucky. I love my home state, but I wanted to challenge myself and move to a place where I had no connections and try to really live on my own. I am very proud to be part of an organization like TFA, and I feel fortunate to be here in New Orleans -- it's a great place to live!

AG: What has been your greatest challenge so far?

SR: The transitition. I am going to be honest. Graduating from college on May 27th, driving to Phoenix from May 28th - May 30th, yes, three days alone in a car, starting induction on June 3rd, going to Institute in Atlanta on June 10th- July 14th, and then starting orientation at my new school on July 16th...what a ride. There was no room to breathe during this time and I found myself really stressed, but I understood that I was being trained to teach 90+ students. It has been the most taxing, yet the most exhilarating three to four months of my life.

TB: I think that my greatest challenge has been getting used to the routine, and coming into my own as an educator. I am still learning so much each day, and I know that I am nowhere nearly as effective as I'd like to be. It's also been difficult to get used to waking up at 5:00 am every morning, as well as getting used to planning long-term. I was a die-hard procrastinator in college, and I'm fighting to kick myself of the habit.

AG: What has been your greatest success?

SR: Redefining myself as Ms. Ricketts. I had to realize that I am no longer Shaina Ricketts the college student, or Shaina Ricketts the CAB chair. I am now Ms. Ricketts, the algebra teacher, responsible for the mental well-being of many students. My attitude and my lack of sleep can have no effect on my lesson or my students. They deserve everything I have to give, even if I have to reach down into my soul to find it. I would say my greatest success has been not only speaking about the great things I want to do for my kids, but also embodying them.

TB: My greatest success has been making connections with my students. They are beginning to trust me and open up to me, and I feel like once I have their trust they will be more willing to learn and work hard.

AG: How do you see this two year commitment contributing to your long-term
career goals?

SR: Aside from the fact that I want to open a Jazz club that also serves as a safe haven for neighborhood teens, I love the information about the education gap and the skills I am receiving. Not only am I a licensed teacher, but I am also getting my Masters in Secondary education. My jazz club is far down the road, but everything I experience now brings me closer to the things I want in my future.

TB: I am so unsure of my long-term career goals--but if I stay in education I'd like to become a high school guidance counselor. I love dealing with students one-on-one, and I feel like I could be very effective in a guidance counselor role. Until then, I think I'll just teach for a few more years, maybe join the Peace Corps with my soon-to-be wife, and see where life takes me!

Teach For America is building a diverse, highly selective national corps of outstanding recent college graduates—of all academic majors, backgrounds, and career interests—who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools to become lifelong leaders for expanding educational opportunity for all children.

Each year, Teach For America selects a diverse group of individuals who have the leadership skills to change the prospects of students growing up today, and ultimately to effect fundamental change from a variety of sectors, including education, policy, law, business, medicine and the sciences.

For more information or to apply for the program, visit the Teach for America website found below.

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