The opportunity to earn a Johns Hopkins master of arts in teaching degree has proved to be a powerful incentive for top college graduates from around the country to enroll in the Teach For America program and pledge to spend two years in high-need Baltimore schools.
The partnership between the Graduate Division of Education in the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education and the Baltimore office of Teach For America enables the local recruitment team from the program to offer recent college graduates a chance to enter the Hopkins MAT program at the same time they begin their initial two-year tour of teaching in Baltimore's schools.
Since the 1999 inception of the partnership, more than 90 percent of the Teach For America teachers who accept assignment to Baltimore have also enrolled in the SPSBE program, says Peter Kannam, executive director of the local Teach For America office and himself a 1999 SPSBE alumnus, with a master of science in administration and supervision.
"The JHU partnership is a big draw for people to come here because it's such a great opportunity," says Kannam. "The teachers see it as a great resource to support them while they're teaching."
Elissa Knight, a 2000 Hopkins graduate who now teaches Spanish at Chinquapin Middle School, says the "opportunity to earn a master's at Hopkins while I teach definitely played a role in making Baltimore my first choice on Teach For America's list of 15 possible placements."
Knight, who grew up in Eau Claire, Wis., says she plans to continue teaching after her two-year commitment to Teach For America is completed and she earns her degree.
Under the partnership, designed in cooperation with SPSBE Dean Ralph Fessler and Associate Dean Rochelle Ingram, director of the Graduate Division of Education, Teach For America enrollees, who are full-time teachers in the city schools, take their MAT classes in the evening and receive extra guidance and assistance from SPSBE faculty.
Of 57 Teach For America teachers who decided last summer to come to work in Baltimore's schools, 53 enrolled in SPSBE, according to Monique Darby, manager of the Baltimore Teach For America office. Similarly, of the 58 teachers now in their second year with Teach For America, 54 are in the MAT program.
"The whole drive behind this partnership is to blend theory and practice," Kannam explains. The MAT course content, he says, is both rigorous and "directly relevant to what the teachers are doing in school each day."
In addition, Hopkins supervisors regularly visit the classrooms of first-year Teach For America participants, observe them at work, help them to apply to their classrooms the content from their MAT courses and provide advice on their performance. Hopkins also matches its Teach For America teachers with a peer mentor in each school and holds content-based seminars one Saturday each month. These feature "veteran, exemplary teachers" who come in for the last two hours with content-specific resources and help with planning of the young teachers' classwork, Kannam says. All Teach For America participants also are supported by an innovative Electronic Learning Community designed for the Hopkins MAT program.
Teach For America was created in 1990 and now is affiliated with the federal Americorps program but receives most of its funding from local school systems, corporations, private foundations and other charitable sources. Its seven recruitment teams--Baltimore's mid-Atlantic team covers Pennsylvania, Ohio and the District of Columbia as well as Maryland--traverse the country, visiting leading colleges and universities.
They seek to recruit "outstanding leaders from campuses who demonstrate high achievement," Kannam says, and work with them "to close the achievement gap in the urban and rural schools where children, on the whole, are performing less well than they are in affluent suburbs. We want our leaders to become the advocates for systemic change, for educational equity," Kannam says.
Rochelle Ingram notes that some skeptics wrongly view the two-year commitment of the Teach For America enrollees as a relatively brief "gesture of youthful idealism on the part of young people from middle-class, suburban families." That certainly cannot be the case for the Baltimore Teach For America recruits who enroll in the SPSBE program, she says. These students clearly are dedicating their lives to education. "Pursuing a master's degree in teaching reflects a long-term commitment to a career in public education," Ingram says.
Since its inception, Teach For America has recruited more than 8,000 college graduates to become teachers in low-income communities nationwide. Currently, 1,700 recruits are teaching in 16 regions throughout the country. More than 115 corps members and alumni are teaching in 34 Baltimore public schools.
Kannam, the executive director of the Baltimore office, is especially proud that one SPSBE student and second-year Teach For America participant, Sarah Sandoval, a social studies teacher at Robert Poole Middle School, was invited by first lady Laura Bush, an advocate of teacher recruitment, to attend the president's State of the Union address in January.