Helping people has always been a part of Aja Settles’ life. Growing up in a household where both parents were active in civil service, it didn’t take much thought for Settles to enter the field of teaching.
As a Temple alumna, Settles is a member of Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates to teach in urban and rural schools for a two-year period. Teach for America’s goal is to train teachers to work effectively to eradicate educational inequity by assisting their students in gaining the skills they need to succeed academically.
“I always knew that I would end up teaching,” Settles said. “I thought it would be later on in life as a career change.”
When Settles first enrolled at Temple in the fall of 1999, her major, under the recommendation of her father, was education. Settles then changed her major to pre-pharmacy. Settles, not fully satisfied, changed again, finally settling on sociology with a health track. She graduated from Temple with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology.
“I had parents [who] were very socially active, and that played a big part in it,” Settles said. “My father was a fire-fighter and my mother was a police officer.”
Settles teaches first grade at Leap Academy University Charter School, an elementary school in Camden, N.J. She said she sees the need for great leaders in today’s educational systems.
“Our goal is to make significant gain. You can’t doubt them, [students] in any single way,” Settles said. “Once you do, they begin to doubt themselves.”
Settles said she believes there is no single cause of the lack of educational equity in today’s public schools. To Settles, a ‘to do list’ teaching method will not help children learn. To reach children today, teachers need to have a more effective method than just telling students what to do.
“You have to let them see why they are doing it. How is this going to help them gain?”
Settles spoke of the positive influence that Teach for America has on students.
“Addressing the failures is important, but you have to stay focused on the positives as well. They are motivated because you show them the improvements that they’ve made.”
It is not necessary to have a formal background in teaching to join the corps. Teach for America looks to recruit individuals from all fields.
An independent study done by Mathematica Policy Research in 2004 stated the effectiveness of Teach for America teachers in the classrooms.
“Even though Teach for America teachers generally lack any formal teacher training beyond that provided by Teach For America, they produce higher test scores than the other teachers in their schools – not just other novice teachers or uncertified teachers, but also veterans and certified teachers,” according to the study.
Settles said she has hopes of returning to school, possibly to pursue a master’s degree in education.
“I see myself teaching for another year, beyond the two year commitment,” Settles said. “I might go back to my roots in nursing, but still have a hand in education.”
Settles has taught 36 students since her first year as a teacher in 2004. She said she loves feeling like she has touched every student that she has taught.
Of teaching in itself, Settles said she feels it is the hardest but most rewarding job she will ever have.
Mya K. Douglas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.