Future teachers express both excitement and anxiety at their future careers
Nearly 40 rising sophomore students in the North Carolina Teaching Fellows scholarship program visited Franklin last Thursday as part of a “Discovery” tour designed to introduce future teachers to the state of North Carolina, its history and culture, its regional differences and beauty, its business communities and its school systems.
Established by an act of the General Assembly in 1987, the Teaching Fellows Program remains one of the most ambitious teacher recruitment programs in the nation. Five hundred incoming freshmen a year from 17 different North Carolina colleges and universities receive the competitive scholarship which provides a $6,500 per year to outstanding high school seniors who agree to teach four years in a North Carolina public school following graduation from college.
Each cohort participates in a summer experience, including the Discovery tour for rising sophomores, a professional conference on diversity for juniors and a professional conference for seniors entering the profession. As in years past, this year’s Discovery tour passed through a variety of counties and school systems, both urban and rural, visiting schools and businesses in the districts.
“Many of our students have only traveled in the region which they’re from,” explained Donald Barringer, the Campus Director for the program at N.C. Central University in Durham who, along with Michelle Rice of UNC Asheville, coordinated this year’s Discovery trip. “We expose the coastal students to the mountains and the mountain students to the coast – small towns to big towns – allowing them to be exposed to what North Carolina is all about.”
The Fellows’ tour of Franklin started with an early morning visit to the Macon County Schools Central Office, where they were greeted by schools superintendent, Dr. Dan Brigman, and human resources director, Dan Moore. From there, the group split into two groups to visit two schools, Cartoogechaye Elementary School and Franklin High School. The Fellows reconvened for a pizza lunch at the Fun Factory, followed by a tour of facilities and businesses owned by Drake Enterprises, including the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts and the company’s downtown offices.
“They want the fellows to get a sense of how the economy and the community work together to influence schools,” explained Rachel Schultz of Queens University, one of three student leaders helping to facilitate the six-day trip to school districts around the state.
Dylan Russell, another student leader from Appalachian State University, said that visiting the businesses was an important aspect of the tour. “I really like the strong sense of support for community, especially by Drake [Enterprises], and on down to the school staff, teachers and everyone,” said Russell, remarking on his impression of Franklin.
Each school system makes its own arrangements for a Teaching Fellows visit, choosing schools, businesses and individuals to represent the community to the visiting students, Barringer noted.
Asked for their feelings about the current budget deliberations going on in the state legislature, many of the Fellows said they were watching the negotiations closely.
“We’re really wondering how the budget is going to affect us when we’re ready to teach,” said Desiree Taylor, an elementary education major and the third student leader of the group. Taylor noted that within her own family there are employees of the public school system in Cumberland County who are fearful they might get a pink slip come July.
While the Teaching Fellows program has had a 99 percent placement rate in recent years, some students are still questioning the stability of their future careers. “Are there going to be jobs available for us in North Carolina after we graduate?” asked Taylor.
After this budget year, the teaching fellowship program will be the only teacher recruitment in the state, said Barringer, noting two other programs in particular that have recently ended. The Prospective Teacher Scholarship Loan sunsets at the end of the year, and the Millennium Scholarship expired last year. So far, says Barringer, the Teaching Fellows Program has not been touched, though in the version of the budget recently passed by the N.C. House, there are some administrative cuts.
Despite this undercurrent of uncertainty, however, the Teaching Fellows said the Discovery tour has broadened their perspectives and inspired them.
“It’s been inspiring to learn that there are places that want to hire good teachers, that want to hire teaching fellows, and that want to put us in classrooms as soon as possible,” said Russell, who is studying History Education and Theater Education at ASU. “It’s really helped us see the big picture and helped us realize that we don’'t have to go back to our hometowns to teach. There’s a whole state waiting for us, from the best systems to the worst systems, they all need good teachers, which is what the teaching program is all about.”
“Everywhere we’ve been, people have been so accommodating and welcoming,” said Emma, a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies major also from ASU. “It’s been really very encouraging.”
“Teachers and educators don’t go into the field for the money, we do it because we want to make a difference,” said Lydia, a Math Education major at Western Carolina University. “We want to make a better future. What’s been really refreshing for me is that all the teachers on this trip have been very supportive, saying, the budget cuts suck but this is a great field, and it’s a noble thing to do. They’ve been speaking very highly of their career, and I’m really excited to enter it.”