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TEACH FOR AMERICA CORPS MEMBER, SHELLY JAIN
Shelly Jain, 22, from Houston, Texas, is in her first year of TFA, teaching sixth grade math at MS 45 in the Bronx, New York.
"TFA was not something I was going to do. I had been applying to jobs like lobbying firms and was going to take a year off before law school. My plan was 100% to go to law school. I already took the LSATs. I was looking at think tanks and the Republican National Committee as possible places to work for that year. There is a big joke around campus that if TFA is there to recruit no other nonprofit stands a chance. I can attest to that. They immediately get you very passionate about the cause, talking about solving educational inequalities. If you can solve educational inequalities in America you can solve every other social inequality. If you have people who are more educated you won't have to deal with as many other issues like teen pregnancy, violence, welfare. The other issues will be minimized."
"Compared to most jobs kids our age get right out of college, this one lets you immediately have a lot of impact. You don't have to build up to it. If I'm 22 at a lobbying firm or the Republican National Committee there is only so much responsibility they give you. This was some place I could truly make an impact. So that was huge for me."
Jain said she still might go to law school, but she isn't so sure anymore. "Teaching wasn't something I would have never considered doing, but I'm finding that it optimizes my abilities." She gave me an example of how she was teaching multiplication of fractions to her 6th grade summer school class and many of her students couldn't even do simple multiplication of 5 X 3. "I needed a way to still teach them how to multiply fractions and we didn't have time to relearn all the multiplication tables." Jain made sure the students had times tables in front of them so they could look at the tables. Then they were at least learning the skill of multiplying fractions and how to do that by looking at the tables. Students would come on Fridays and on the weekends or before school and she would give them extra help. "And we'd play a game where they would have to race me in the multiplication tables. If they won I had to buy them a slice of pizza. If you make it like a game they don't feel like they are so behind. Otherwise, if you get too far ahead of them, they shut down and don't pay attention. There was no point in frustrating the students. Multiplication is just a straight memorization skill and they were still excited that they could multiply fractions even though they didn't know the times table yet. By the end they could multiply mixed numbers and learned this multi-step process. And I did get two students pizza because they beat me!"
Jain spends a lot of time with creative lessons. When the kids were learning how to find the area of a rectangle, Jain brought in Hershey bars because there are cubes in the bar and kids can directly see the number of boxes within a specific figure. "It's not so bad then. They are getting to eat chocolate and give me the right answer!"
"A lot of things I'm used to didn't work with these kids because they didn't care about the consequences. There was a 16-year-old in her class who had failed a few grades. She was talking after class. And I asked her to please not talk while others were still taking the test. She kept doing it. I said, 'Next time you talk I'm going to not grade your test and you will get a zero.' Usually that would work for us because there are steep consequences. But she said, 'I don't care. I'm going to have to redo sixth grade anyways.' That's when I thought, Oh my god that's not a good way to deal with her! So I sat down with her and said, 'You know the material so well and that's why you finished so early so I want you to be able to help me teach the kids in the class.' She was totally accommodating the rest of the class."
"I became so attached to my kids. They e-mail me. They would call me. I gave them all my cellphone number. I would have lunch with them and got to know them on a personal level. I really do think I might go into teaching. Teachers can make a difference in the lives of kids because it is the one consistent thing in their lives everyday. This can be their way out. What's unique about TFA is you're getting the best students to put their other goals on hold for two years. We aren't doing this because we don't have other job options or we want this salary! If I don't continue being a teacher I think I want to stay in the realm of education now. I would like to create a project where I take four different schools in different cities and give teachers $100,000 in salary. I would recruit the best teachers with a college and teaching degree. Make it as competitive and prestigious as an investment-banking job. Right now it's not hard to become a teacher because there is a shortage. But if you can make it as competitive as getting into Harvard law school or a job offer from Goldman Sachs that would change people's minds."