Finding Work That Makes a Difference

Finding Work That Makes a Difference

Ky Adderley went from being a first-year teacher at age 26 to founding a charter school at age 30. Swiftly moving from teaching sixth graders and writing education policy, he was recruited in 2004 to become the Brooklyn, New York, chapter’s founding principal of  KIPP-AMP, an acronym that stands for Knowledge is Power Program-Always Mentally Prepared, charter school. Founded in 1994, the KIPP network of schools now comprises 60 middle schools, 24 elementary schools, and 15 high schools that serve a student population that is 95% African American and Latino in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Adderley’s school opened in 2005 with one fifth-grade class of students from families whose doors he had knocked on. Now 35, Adderley, along with his team, is responsible for the education of 300 mostly African American boys and girls in grades five through eight.

Adderley didn’t initially pursue a career in education. Attending Georgetown University on a track scholarship, he trained for the 2000 Olympic trials and later earned a master’s degree in social and public policy. When a friend told him that teaching was an important way to influence a child’s life, he applied to Teach for America, a program that trains top college graduates and assigns them teaching posts in low-income communities. “She said ‘Apply or don’t ever speak to me again about education,’” Adderley recalls. “To this day I thank her for those words. The moment I stepped into the classroom I realized the influence that a teacher has over a life. I fell in love with it the first day. I never thought about starting a school–I just knew that this was a powerful position and a powerful career.”

Education is a growing area of the economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for education will rise as student enrollments increase, especially in urban and rural school districts; subject areas in high demand include bilingual education, math, and science. Employment in the public and private educational services field is expected to increase by 12%, adding 1.7 million new jobs through 2018. In all 50 states, K-12 teachers in public schools are required to have a teaching license in addition to a bachelor’s degree, and to have completed an accredited teacher education program. A license is not usually required for teachers in private schools.

The average wage for teachers in elementary and secondary schools is $53,190. For elementary and secondary school administrators median wages were $83,880 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Principals and other education administrators who lead and manage schools, colleges, or universities typically have master’s or doctoral degrees as well as related experience in areas such as counseling or teaching.

After 20 years in education, Melanie Cofield, a first grade teacher at Fairland Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, is still engaging young children and inspiring them to learn. “I remember what it was like when I was in first grade and things I would have liked from my teacher.” Cofield often uses music to teach her pupils. She even writes educational rap songs. “They memorize the raps and go home singing the different chants that I make up. I take a different approach to teaching; the kids get a lot out of it and want to come back to school.” Cofield, who planned to study child psychiatry in college, advises new teachers to focus on the children, not the statistics. “Every year we hear about the achievement gap with our black boys,” she says. “Last year my black boys were part of my top reading group.”
Cofield also believes that prospective teachers need to come to the profession with passion, not just a mastery of the subject matter. “I can’t see anyone lasting in this profession if you don’t like working with children. There are a lot of people who are knowledgeable in certain content areas,” she offers. “Just because you may have been a math major or good in science doesn’t mean you’ll make a good teacher. You’ve got to love working with kids.”

The KIPP-AMP day begins at 7:25 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.; children are required to attend classes every other Saturday as well as school in July. Teachers are on call and available to parents 24/7 and earn more than they would at a traditional public school. “We like to treat teachers and people in the education field like professionals,” Adderley says.
As an educator, Adderley is keenly aware of disparities in education associated with race and class, as well as the importance of providing students with a variety of experiences in and outside of the classroom. KIPP-AMP features debate and track teams, and Adderley says it is the only U.S. school with mandatory participation in capoeira, the Brazilian martial art. In addition, each student learns to read music.

Adderley considers the principal’s job to be the head cheerleader of doing what’s right for children. On an average day, you’ll find him at school by 6:45 a.m.; he spends the day coaching teachers, checking in with students, participating in their capoeira or music lessons, and meeting with parents. He looks for teachers and staff who are highly motivated lifelong learners and who understand the powerful role they will play in a child’s development. “They are more than a role model; they are the liquid that the children are going to sponge up,” he says. “When the children get here our goal is to get them so motivated and excited for college that they’re willing to do the hard work that’s necessary to make it happen.”

Being unique, organized, and flexible are among the qualities of a good teacher, stresses Cofield. “You have to be motivated and driven. If you’re enthusiastic about teaching, the kids are going to be the same way about learning. You must also have a lot of patience because children will try you.”