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Virus Means CMS Teach For America Recruits Won't Spend Summer With Students


Teach For America expects to bring about 70 new teachers to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in August. But instead of spending the summer working with students, the new teachers are likely to arrive with only virtual training. 

Teach For America recruits idealistic college graduates who didn’t major in education to do two-year teaching stints in some of America’s understaffed schools. Instead of the traditional teacher prep path, they normally take a summer crash course.

"Generally our corps members are teaching summer school in person, and they’re housed on a college campus," said Crystal Rountree, executive director of Teach For America in Charlotte. "We know right now all three of those things are no longer feasible in the current environment." 

She was preparing to celebrate the group’s 15th anniversary of working with CMS in March when the pandemic upended everything.

Recruiting for 2020 was in progress. Most candidates are graduating seniors, though there are some career-changers, too. Candidates are screened and selected by Teach For America but also have to be hired by CMS. There’s a popular misconception that they’re free or cheap labor, but they’re paid the same as any other rookie teacher – just over $41,000 a year.

Some of the selection interviews are now being done online. And the training plan has shifted to "doing virtual coaching and support and training over the summer," Rountree said. "And then we will increase the amount of support that we’re providing to teachers as they start the school year."

That’s not ideal, but Rountree notes that North Carolina waived the student teaching requirement this year because some traditional education majors had their class time cut short when schools closed in March.

"That’s true for us and any other person who may have graduated right now and was planning to be a teacher in the fall – the experience of working with students has been disrupted," she said.

Teach For America plans to place 60-70 teachers in CMS. No other districts in the Charlotte region are part of the program. In the rest of the state, Guilford County and 13 small districts in eastern North Carolina will get anywhere from four to 20 teachers each.

Teach For America works with urban and rural schools that traditionally have the hardest time finding and keeping good teachers. Critics say they’re short-timers who lack the preparation and commitment to help those schools build an experienced faculty.

Rountree says many opt to stay longer than two years, and her group looks for candidates with a long-term commitment to public education, even if that’s not in the classroom. For instance, nine CMS principals got their start with Teach For America.

Regardless of preparation or experience, all teachers expect to return to an unfamiliar landscape in August. There’s likely to be an increased reliance on distance learning and some type of alternative scheduling to let students keep a safe distance in halls, buses and classes.

"I just think that we have to prepare ourselves that on the other side of this when the school year starts our kids are going to need massive academic remediation from just the disruption of their school year," Rountree said, "and they’re going to need real supports around social and emotional learning, because this is a traumatic experience for all of us."

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.