Teach for America: Tim Ware
Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio
B.A. in U.S. history/secondary education
A couple of years ago, at Thanksgiving dinner with his family, Tim Ware's sister informed him, "I've got the perfect plan for your life." Enthusiastic about his job as youth services coordinator for a Midwestern hospital, Ware figured his own plan was just fine — until his sister told him about Teach for America. He started researching the organization and chatting online with corps members. "I received the distinct impression that there was a world of possibility in putting students on different life tracks," says Ware. "I was really drawn to it."
Now an eighth-grade history teacher at Frayser Middle and High School, Ware has experienced peaks and valleys during his initial year with TFA. Because of a computer glitch during the first week of school, only one of 250 eighth-graders was registered. As administrators and teachers scrambled to create order from the chaos, Ware recalls "more students than I can remember saying, 'Oh, come on, Mr. Ware. We're here to learn!'"
At the same time, establishing classroom control has been the biggest hurdle Ware has overcome. "I told the students, 'Bottom line, folks, the reason for getting an education is that one day you can be a professional.' And we'd talk about what a professional looks like, how we should dress, speak, behave, approach problems, interact with each other. The kids have latched on to that. One told me, 'Mr. Ware, so-and-so is using unprofessional language.'" he adds with a laugh. "That's when I knew this idea works; I'm gonna keep it in my pocket."
On the other hand, a continuing "thorn in his flesh" is the issue of students who come to class with no pen, no pencil, no paper, no textbook. "One parent flat out told me, 'I'm not buying my child's supplies,'" says Ware. "I couldn't believe it. Other teachers and I got together and bought what was needed."
These "thorns" — or inconsistencies on the road to learning — are major pitfalls that widen the learning gap, says Ware. "They can be seen in everything from students skipping school, to class schedules repeatedly getting changed, to parents moving and children having to enter a different school," he explains. "It doesn't come from any one place but from all around."
One of his keys to closing the gap may surprise you: "I have found that the more rigorous the lesson, the less discipline problems I have, and the more excited the children are. If I make the lessons a little harder, the students pay more attention."
Ware credits his TFA training, as well as his principal and the eighth-grade teaching team, for lifting him up when he falls short of "getting a high recall and high level of understanding" from students. "I'd be lying if I said I came in the first day and blew the objectives out of the water," he laughs. His TFA program director, Lindsay Hughes, has helped him create valid assessments and objectives in line with curriculum standards, and "given me ongoing training that has been phenomenal," he says. His most recent assessment (at this writing in mid-March), with pupils studying the Constitutional Convention of 1787, showed a 90 percent class average.
Looking ahead, this former college basketball player knows he has a lot to learn on the court before he starts calling shots from the bench. "I would consider moving into administration as an advisor or principal," he says, "but I want to be a good teacher first."