Governor's School, now Teaching Fellows.
If I didn't know better, I might worry I'm the jinx that's causing these nationally-recognized education programs to land on the state's fiscal chopping block.
But it's not me. It's the North Carolina legislature and a penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to crafting the budget. In addition to plans to cut funding for teacher assistants, virtual school programs and pre-k programs (among others), there's now a Senate proposal to eliminate Teaching Fellows.
The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, established by the General Assembly in 1986, is billed as "the most ambitious teacher recruitment program in the nation." The idea was to recruit talented high school students and provide them with additional supports (both financial and experiential) as education majors so that they would be better prepared for teaching and thus more likely to stay (and be successful) in North Carolina classrooms.
Currently, the program pays an annual scholarship of $6,500 for four years, bringing in 500 future teachers at 17 North Carolina campuses each year. Students who choose not to teach in NC public schools after graduation repay the funds as a student loan. The program has been copied by other states and a recent study of teacher effectiveness found Teaching Fellow graduates are among the most effective teachers in the state.
When I attended UNC Chapel Hill as a Teaching Fellow from 1991-1995, the program essentially paid for my four years of college plus small stipends for summer programs in exchange for four years of teaching in Charlotte after graduation. In addition to the scholarship funds, the program offered four years of special seminars in education, hands-on internships in area schools, targeted summer learning opportunities across the state (and the globe), plus a cohort of bright classmates who became like family during college and my years as a teacher.
It was a big decision as a 12th-grade student to commit to a university, a major and a job before I even had my high school diploma in hand -- but in many ways, that single decision charted the path of my entire career.
There are some who might argue that I'm a perfect example of how the program has failed. I completed my degree in education, taught for four years (which "paid back" the scholarship), then left for graduate school and never returned to classroom teaching.
But I believe just the opposite -- being a North Carolina Teaching Fellow got me into the classroom for four unforgettable years. Without that scholarship, I might never have gone into teaching. And the program's influence on me -- and hopefully my influence on public education in this state -- didn't end when I left the classroom.
Since my career as a high school English teacher, I've continued to work in public education for more than a decade -- first at the county level and now at the state level in professional advocacy, research and communications roles. I've worked with teachers, principals, parents and business leaders in their efforts to ensure that all students have access to a sound, basic education (as required by the state constitution) as well as exciting innovations taking our state's schools far beyond "basic." I talk to friends, neighbors, anyone who will listen about the critical importance of a strong system of public schools for our community. I stay informed and vote based on education issues and their impact on our state. I still think of myself as a Teacher.
I am a better teacher, better parent, better citizen for having been a North Carolina Teaching Fellow.
I just hope our legislators don't destroy in one budget cycle what this state has spent 25 dedicated years building.
Click here (starting on p. 4) and here (starting on p. 2) to read more from Teaching Fellows who are speaking out against the eleventh-hour Senate budget proposal to cut all funding for this powerful program.