The program began at MIT in 2008 and has since spread to Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Macalester.
Drawn to teaching but unsure about committing a lifetime to it, Christian Smith ’15 (Menomonie, Wis.) and Katie Soo ’13 (Sedalia, Colo.) got a chance to try out the career—and help out two under-resourced schools as they did.
The two Mac students got their taste of teaching while taking part in the Three Weeks for America program, in which college students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields help out in Teach for America classrooms. The program began at MIT in 2008 and has since spread to Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Macalester.
Soo assisted a middle school/high school science teacher at the Learning for Leadership Charter School (LLCS) in northeast Minneapolis. “I’m interested in teaching science in the future, perhaps even through Teach for America,” explains Soo, so she considered the three-week program the perfect opportunity to learn more about both the field and the Teach for America program. As a teaching assistant, she graded papers and held small study groups, as well as devising extra activities for gifted students.
Smith worked at Higher Ground Academy, an Afrocentric K-12 charter school in St. Paul with many first- and second-generation East African immigrant students. Although Smith is fairly sure he wants a career in teaching and had done tutoring in his small Wisconsin hometown, he was glad for the chance to “continue teaching, refine my skills in communicating mathematical concepts, and expose myself to inner-city public education.”
Despite its brevity, Three Weeks for America allows interns to familiarize themselves with the ways schools are organized, says Soo, and to “build relationships with both students and faculty that feel like they have lasted for more than three weeks.” And then there’s the nitty-gritty of the job, which can make or break a career choice: “I saw what keeping a class quiet really entails, and how much grading teachers are expected to do on a daily basis.”