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Future teachers lend their voices to education conversation

By Megan Sexton, msexton@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-1421

Math has always come easily for Taylor Christopher, but the rising USC sophomore knows that’s not the case for many other students. She’s aiming to change that.

The math major from Boiling Springs, S.C., plans to teach in a high school classroom after graduating, bringing understanding to an often challenging subject.

“I’m not in it for the money, that’s for sure,” Christopher said. “I never had a great math teacher in high school. I feel like math must be hard to teach. But I know I can do it.”

Her enthusiasm for teaching got another boost this month, when she was part of a trip to Washington with her South Carolina Teaching Fellows colleagues. The program recruits high quality teachers to South Carolina’s classrooms, by offering fellows scholarship money during college if they agree to teach in a South Carolina public school after graduation.

During this “Sophomore Experience” trip, 73 students from six South Carolina colleges and universities, including 28 from USC, visited the U.S. Department of Education and got to offer their opinions and insights to Secretary Arne Duncan.

For Kimberly Smoak, the campus director of the S.C. Teaching Fellows program at USC's College of Education, the experience was one of the highlights of her career.

“To see some of South Carolina's top pre-service teachers taking part in a meaningful conversation about education reform, asking tough questions and engaging in the process was very rewarding,” Smoak said. “Their insight, passion and willingness to question the system made me very proud to have them representing the state of South Carolina.”

While visiting the Department of Education, fellows discussed Project RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), an initiative by the U.S. Department of Education designed to gather input from teachers on education reform.

The conversation was one of 100 RESPECT conversations taking place nationwide. The sessions are led by 16 active classroom teachers called Teaching Ambassador Fellows, temporary employees in the U.S. Department of Education. The input given will be used to fine-tune the proposed $5 billion competitive program announced earlier this year.

For Christopher, it was a chance to have her voice heard.

“It was cool because we are so young but we can have such an impact on something that can change things for the whole country,” she said. “Teachers are not always looked up to, and people opt out for higher paying jobs. We need for the teaching profession to be more respected. We are the ones who can help do that.”

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Posted: 05/21/12 @ 3:00 PM | Updated: 05/21/12 @ 3:31 PM | Permalink

The S.C. Teaching Fellows Program

  • The mission of the South Carolina Teaching Fellows program is to recruit talented high school seniors into the teaching profession and help them develop leadership qualities.
  • Each year, the program provides fellowships for up to 175 high school seniors who have exhibited high academic achievement, a history of service to their school and community, and a desire to teach in South Carolina.
  • Teaching Fellows participate in advanced enrichment programs at Teaching Fellows Institutions, have additional professional development opportunities, and are involved with communities and businesses throughout the state. They receive up to $24,000 in yearly scholarships (up to $6,000 a year for four years), while they complete a degree leading to teacher certification. The scholarship provides up to $5,700 for tuition and board and $300 for summer enrichment programs.
  • A fellow agrees to teach in South Carolina one year for every year he or she receives the fellowship.
  • There are currently Teaching Fellows serving in 75 school districts across of South Carolina. Of the 261 Teaching Fellows who have satisfied their loan through service, 84.7 percent are still teaching.

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