By Tom Albano
Even though senior public relations major Brittany Knoerdel is no longer in the School of Education, she is getting a second chance at teaching after being accepted to the acclaimed program Teach for America (TFA).
Knoerdel originally came to Rider as an elementary education major with a specialization in special education. Unhappy with that major, she switched to public relations. She now regrets letting her teaching degree go.
“I just made a quick decision,” Knoerdel said. “I think that was my biggest mistake. Teach for America was my second chance with education.”
Teach for America is a national program that has the mission to improve education in public schools located in under-served areas. Recent college graduates who are accepted into the program enroll in graduate school and commit to two years in a school district that is in need of funding and resources. Knoerdel hopes to attend Fordham for graduate school to get her master’s in education.
Those selected for Teach for America are not education majors, but they are required to have leadership experience in high school and college clubs and other activities.
Now that she will be a part of the program, Knoerdel will be teaching in a New York school in Brooklyn, the Bronx or Harlem.
The process to get into the program was not an easy one. The application took two months to complete because it required so many references and other information, according to Knoerdel. After being approved, she had a phone interview. Next came the online portion, which Knoerdel found to be a “long, grueling process.”
“I had to answer 16 multiple choice questions based on the whole education system and the problems going on in America with education,” she said. “Then I had to write nine essays and watch a video. And I only had two hours to complete all of it.”
This was followed by an eight-hour day of interviewing in New York that was highlighted by teaching a lesson in five minutes with only one minute of preparation time. She took part in discussion panels on essays, a 45-minute one-on-one interview and a role-playing scenario, including playing the role of a teacher pretending to discuss with the principal why she wanted to bring her class on a field trip.
She finally found out two weeks ago that she was accepted into the program.
Knoerdel is proud to have held her share of leadership positions throughout college, including sophomore class president.
However, one of the biggest influences to apply for Teach for America was her time spent in Rider’s chapter of the Alpha Xi Delta (AZD) sorority and the leadership opportunities it offered. She served as the sorority’s Panhellenic delegate, on its executive board, and as a representative at Rider University Greek Council meetings, where she ran three programs per semester on career building and interviewing skills. Additionally, she was chapter president.
It was these experiences that became the launching pad toward her Teach for America position.
“During all the interviews I had for Teach for America, the one thing that they focused on was that I was the chapter president of AZD,” she said. “I was responsible for 75 women and making sure that an organization that has been here for 40-something years now lives on. That’s a major responsibility and that’s what they’re looking for in their classrooms.”
Another big influence came from Dean of Students Anthony Campbell. He helped her get an internship at Mill Hill Child and Family Development, where he is on the board of directors.
“The internship helped her solidify her teaching career,” Campbell said. “I’m very proud of her. Teach for America is a wonderful thing. She’ll work in a place of high need and be able to use her talents as a liberal arts major to help the students further their growth and encourage them to get a good education.”
Knoerdel knows the transition to a city school district won’t be easy.
“It’s going to be very eye-opening,” she said. “I have a passion for teaching, especially in the districts that TFA corps members serve in. I can use my leadership skills and knowledge to help the students who are less fortunate than me get the same quality education that every other student gets in America.”
While she may not have been an education major, Knoerdel still has a passion for making a difference when teaching in these poorly funded areas.
“I want to be the one to help people who can’t help themselves,” she said. “I know there is a huge education problem in America. People who come from those kinds of backgrounds don’t get the education that people who come from higher income communities and have higher resources do, and I don’t think it’s fair. I want to be there to help.”
Printed in the 4/2/14 edition