Serena Elavia ’14
Imagine going from being a student learning in the classroom to suddenly being the teacher managing an entire class. Imagine doing this a few months after you graduate from college. For Greg Leitao ’12, this hypothetical became a reality as he took up a corps member teaching position with Teach For America after graduating from Trinity. Leitao currently teaches sixth grade humanities at the Bronx Academy of Letters in Bronx, NY.
Teach For America is a nonprofit foundation that places teachers in low income rural and urban public schools. The teachers are either recent college graduates or experienced professionals, and the teaching period is two years. After gaining admission to the program, corps members receive extensive training before they teach in a real classroom. In the 2012-13 academic year, TFA will have 10,000 teachers who will teach 750,000 students across the nation in 46 different areas. TFA has produced roughly 28,000 alumni, and many of them continue in the education sector even after leaving TFA.
College seniors who are looking for a full time position after graduation can apply during the fall and early spring of their senior year. After completing the first application, prospective teachers then view online teaching videos and answer questions on them. If the applicant’s answers are approved, they then move onto the next step of a phone interview. Afterwards, the applicant attends a full day event that includes teaching a mini lesson to a small group of people, working with other applicants in group activities and a final one on one interview with a TFA recruiter. Roughly one month after the final interview, applicants are informed via e-mail whether or not they have been accepted into the program and which city they will be in. Those who choose to participate in TFA will know if they have a job after graduation by New Years, leaving plenty of time to enjoy senior spring. During the summer, new TFA recruits attend Institute, an intensive 5-week training course in the area that they will teach in, where their days start at 5:30 am and run straight through dinner time. New teachers participate in workshops, listen to guest speakers and spend the final two to three weeks actually teaching students. Leitao described the training as the “perfect balance between preparatory work and hands on experience.” This training period also allows those not familiar with the area that they will be teaching in to meet fellow teachers and work on locating housing.
During the fall of his senior year, Leitao was unsure about what he wanted to do after graduation. Both of his parents were teachers, so the idea of working in education had always lingered in his mind, but he was never sure if he would become a teacher. Luckily, he was recommended by a friend, which prompted him to begin the application process. When he was accepted into the program, he decided to take the job as he was given his first choice city location of New York and the package overall was what he was looking for. Still, he thought that he would complete the two year teaching period and then venture into another profession like publishing or journalism, as he was the editor-in-chief of The Trinity Tripod during his senior fall. But after teaching for just a few months, Leitao is sold on the profession and wants to continue in education even after his time at the Bronx Academy of Letters. Now, he is giving everything he has to the school, and its students. He describes his position with TFA as a “perfect way to ease into adulthood after graduation,” and raves about the vast support network and the number of friends he has made.
Leitao says that the most challenging part about his job is the transition from being a student in the classroom to suddenly being a teacher. As well, switching from a one to two class day to a day full of teaching has been a part of the transition. Given that TFA operates in low income school districts, teachers have limited resources and make the most out of what they are given. This has been a challenging aspect for Leitao, but he has adapted to working with the resources and using them to enhance his students’ classroom experience.
While teaching may have its challenges, Leitao says that being a teacher has its rewards, especially during those random moments where his students say funny things and brighten his day. “Along with the difficult aspect of teaching, there’s a lot of laughing and fun times in the classroom,” says Leitao. While many jobs only consist of the daily grind, Leitao is happy that TFA provides him with a job that is peppered with humorous incidents throughout the day. “Many of my peers still have to wake up early and work nine to five, but don’t receive the same reward that teaching delivers,” he says.
Leitao described his first day teaching as “terrifying.” He said that suddenly being thrust into a classroom after intense training and hypothetical situations was daunting, but that TFA provided him with a great support network. Unlike many other schools, TFA is not there to watch and grade a teacher, but rather to support and guide them to being a better teacher. “Every day after the first goes uphill and each day gets better,” he says.
Leitao says that his four years at Trinity gave him the necessary skills for teaching and taught him many interpersonal skills. Being in a small school environment showed him how to interact with many groups and different types of people, a skill crucial in the classroom where a teacher must interact with every student. “I learned how to strike up a conversation with anyone and as a result learned a lot about the people around me,” he says. His favorite aspect of Trinity was its size, where every student had a one on one relationship with each other and their professors. He says that living in a big city doesn’t allow him the pleasure of randomly bumping into people and that he longs for the community environment that Trinity had. At Trinity, Leitao’s schedule was packed with extracurricular activities that included being a Writing Associate and serving as president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity for one semester, in addition to being an English Literature major with a minor in Writing, Rhetoric and Media Arts. His role as a Writing Associate and learning how to tutor has helped immensely in the classroom, according to him.
After his two year teaching period, Leitao plans on heading back to school, hoping to eventually receive a Ph.D. in English and teach at the university level.