Not long ago, someone following the WW Teaching Fellowship on Facebook posted this question to our wall: “Any suggestions to a potential applicant? Really looking for a positive career change from being a corporate scientist.”
Every year the opening of the WW Teaching Fellows competition —and yes, the application is now open—inspires hundreds of phone calls to our offices with similar questions. It’s great talking to each and every candidate who calls about the Fellowship; most of those calls come from talented, altruistic, committed people who are doing some amazing things.
Now, you don’t have to live at the Genius Bar to make a good Fellow, or even be a corporate scientist. It does help, however, that Fellows like to work—and work hard—and have a really strong understanding of their subject going into the program. Most have undergrad degrees in math, biology, physics, agriculture, technology, computer programming, sound editing, science, life science, earth science, mathematics, chemistry…. you get the idea!
While hard work and an undergraduate major or minor in a STEM field are a given, there’s more. As Candace Kissinger, WW Indiana Teaching Fellow, a corporate R&D specialist for 35 years, and now a biology teacher, wrote in a November 2011 op-ed for the Lafayette Journal & Courier:
I chose this new direction because I wanted to apply my experience and convince young people of the merits and significance of science, a topic that I cherish. … If you’ve thought about teaching, understand that this is not easy. It’s not something to do while you look for other work, or—despite the persistent urban myth—a ticket to extra vacation time. Sticking with this job requires more than subject expertise. You have to dig deep…. Teachers do this job because we worry about the future of this country and want to make a difference.
In other words, the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows also have a more elusive, but infinitely more important quality: grit. They go into teaching knowing that their weekends will be spent grading papers and creating lessons and their summer vacations devoted to developing themselves and their connections with kids. They don’t give up easily and they are prepared for the long haul.
Many Fellows come into the program after having volunteered with groups like City Year, the Peace Corps, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis. They want to connect with kids and inspire a love of learning. Most Fellows are lifelong learners themselves—training dolphins, researching in chemistry labs, working in the rainforests. They work with the community, students and the school, and apply the lessons they have learned themselves to their own schools and classrooms.
So, there’s no trick to being selected as a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow. While the Fellows have their own unique strengths, there are common threads of commitment, work ethic, resilience and subject area content knowledge that all Fellows tend to share—qualities and attributes that make for successful teachers!