Towson native makes grade to join Teach for America

Towson native makes grade to join Teach for America
Claire Wise, 21, who grew up in the Loch Raven area, will be teaching eighth-grade math at an inner-city middle school in San Antonio starting on Aug. 24 after being accepted into the Teach for American program. (Submitted photo)

Clare Wise's journey ends on Aug. 24. Or, depending on your perspective, begins. That is the day schools open in San Antonio and Wise, a Towson native, embarks on her Teach for America assignment.

"I'm very excited but at the same time nervous. I'm anxious to get into the classroom and meet my students, to get into the swing of things," said Wise, who will be teaching eighth-grade math at an inner-city middle school.


Wise, 21, the daughter of Joanna and Fred Wise, grew up in the Loch Raven area. A 2011 graduate of Towson High School, she attributes her interest in education to Scott Olson, her 11th-grade Advanced Placement psychology teacher.

"He is a great instructor who cares about his students," she said of Olson. "I looked forward to going to class every day."

That interest carried over to the University of Maryland, where Wise majored in nutrition and food science, minored in global poverty and interned in an urban education setting.

"I knew I wanted to do something meaningful, to connect with a community," Wise said of applying to Teach for America in her senior year. "I was not a traditional education major so I knew I had to find an alternative route and Teach for America was a good fit."

Founded in 1990 and in its 25th year, Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that partners with school systems around the country to offer educational opportunities for underprivileged children.

Teach for America recruits and trains people for two-year commitments to teach in high-need schools. The number of individuals accepted into the Teach corps annually varies, depending on its educational partners.

"We serve 50 regions across the country, from New York City to rural Arkansas. We fill as many slots as they need each year," said Elora Tocci, prospect communications manager for national Teach for America, headquartered in New York City.

Once accepted into the Teach for America corps, individuals receive teacher training for grades kindergarten through 12th, and in specific topics like science, technology, math and other requested subject areas. In 2014-15, 10,600 Teach members taught in the 50 urban and rural regions.

Teach for America members rank their regional preferences for assignments, and their preferred grade and subject. The organization does what it can to meet those expectations, but the ultimate hiring is up to the individual schools.

"We bring teachers into their pipeline," Tocci said. "The principals interview and make the decision about hiring."

Teach for America members are paid by their school systems.

Wise applied to Teach for America in October of 2014. After telephone and in-person interviews, she was notified in January that she'd been accepted for the 2015-16 academic year Teach corps.

Like Wise, two-thirds of Teach for America's applicants are recent college graduates, Tocci said, but there is no cut-off age, and older professionals and retirees participate as well.

"We look for talented individuals who want to make an impact," Tocci said.


The application process is competitive. Teach for America accepted 15 percent of the 44,000 applicants it received for the 2015-16 academic year. "The numbers fluctuate a bit year to year but that's about typical," Tocci said.

A week after graduation, Wise arrived in San Antonio to begin her summer-long Teach for America training.

"I'd never been off the East Coast. I'd never been to Texas," said Wise, who requested the city as her first choice. "It was a different culture and it interested me. I wanted to explore Latino life."

Wise joins a corps of 200 Teach for America members, new and current, in the city of 1.4 million.

So far, she has found a sprawling city with a major Hispanic presence.

"It's spread out so it has a small-town feel," she said. "Each area has a distinct culture. Texans have a lot of pride in their state but San Antonio-ans really love their city."

Wise will be teaching at a middle school whose demographic is 95 to 98 percent Hispanic, with the rest of the students split between white and African-American. The majority of students are from low-income households. Wise speaks some Spanish but by middle school, classes in the school district are taught in English.

As for Wise, she can't wait to start teaching, a career she intends to continue after her two-year Teach for America commitment.

"I'm planning on staying in the classroom," she said. "I'm in it for the long haul."