Making an Impact
Teaching fellows inspire students at high-need schools
KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 25, 2016) — What kind of a person gives up a prestigious, high-paying job with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to become a high school science teacher? Someone like Shadeed Abdul-Salaam.
“What made me change paths, first and foremost, when I think about my own educational experience, growing up I went to kindergarten through 12th grade without having one minority teacher,” said the former CDC research scientist. “So, I saw the lack of diversity when it came down to the sciences.”
Abdul-Salaam was a member of the first cohort of Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows at Kennesaw State University, and in August, he stood in front of a classroom full of honors biology students for the first time.
“Kennesaw State was a wonderful environment to be indoctrined through the Bagwell College of Education; to take someone who has never had an educational course, just science courses, and bring me up to speed in that regard, was wonderful,” he said.
The Woodrow Wilson Georgia Teaching Fellows program is designed to close the achievement gap and provide all students with high-quality teachers. The highly competitive program recruits recent graduates and career changers with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math – the STEM fields – and prepares them to teach in high-need secondary schools.
Standing in front of his ninth- and 10th-grade students at Benjamin Banneker High School in Atlanta in October, Abdul-Salaam seemed at ease and easily engaged his pupils in a discussion on biomolecules.
“The goal of (the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows program) is to see how we can increase interest (and) how we can make an impact specifically at high-needs schools,” he said. “The reason we need impact here is because people tend to not want to come to the high-needs schools.”
Abdul-Salaam spent almost a decade with the CDC working on the environmental health issue of tobacco, a job he concedes was “very exciting.” However, the opportunity to model diversity in the sciences, in addition to being able to spend more time with his two young children, proved too strong a call to go unanswered.
“When you’re doing research, you have a lot of time to think,” he said. “Here, in the classroom, you’re on stage constantly. This is like presentation day as a part of your research, daily, hourly; you have to be prepared, and you have to spend hours mastering your craft.”
Though he feels teachers are undervalued and underappreciated, Abdul-Salaam says he has no regrets.
“When the students get excited because they get it, that also inspires you to continue the work,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets about being in the classroom.”
– Jennifer Hafer
Photos by David Caselli