Teach for America gets high marks in Hale County

By Alan Collins

HALE COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - While Birmingham will be hiring scores of new teachers out of the Teach for America program, that program has been up and running for half a year in Hale County. Ryan Jessen left an international political consultant's job in Washington D.C. to teach world history at Greensboro Middle School in Hale County.

"I felt it was kind of wrong to focus on an international focus since there was a problem in America when it came to achievement and test scores and things like that," Jessen said.

Hale County schools were facing a problem: they could not find enough math and science teachers.

"We were continuing to have to employ people because they were employable. We were constantly going to the alternative certificate route," Frank Stegall, Hale County superintendent said.

Teach for America solved the problem. The school system hired eight teachers at $3,000 a piece above the normal salary.

"Their attitude was remarkable," Stegall said.

Jessen spends much of his time outside of the classroom by assisting in coaching basketball at the school or helping his students after class. That extra effort includes "speaking with kids outside of school, doing tutorial outside of school, leading an extra curricular program," Jessen said.

While the folks here at Hale county will tell you they give the Teacher for America program high marks, others will say it's too soon to determine if it gets a passing grade due to the challenges faced by any first-time teachers.

"They have problems like our first year teachers as well," Janet Sherrod, Greensboro Middle School principal, said.

Sherrod says those problems include discipline and time management in the classroom. Still, Jassen believes Teach for America will work in the classroom.

"I'm very confident Teach for America will play in Birmingham, will be able to help close that achievement gap," Jessen said.

The teachers in the program have a two year commitment to teach. The school system will evaluate the teachers as other educators at the end of the year and determine if the teachers will be retained or not. Hale County pays for the teachers out of its federal funds.

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