A shortage of teachers in the United States means it has become difficult to get teachers to work in rural and low income urban areas. Teach for America, a non-profit organization, is helping to fill the gap. It recruits recent college graduates and young professionals to teach in those areas for two years.
Natasha Alford wasn't satisfied working for an investment company. She wanted to make a difference by becoming a teacher.
But since she hadn't completed a teacher training program, she couldn't apply for teaching jobs. She says Teach For America helped her reach her goals.
"I saw alumni and current teachers in Teach for America who were [improving] their kids in two or three years in reading and just making all these remarkable leaps and bounds in the classroom. So I knew that even without pursuing that traditional path, I can make a difference, and Teach for America was the fastest route to the classroom," said Alford.
Alford teaches English and literature at this charter school in Washington. A charter school is independent, but funded by the public school system.
She is one of about 9,000 teachers with Teach for America in more than 40 rural and low income urban areas.
Natalie Laukitis, a spokesperson for the organization, says many low income children lag behind, academically.
"Teach for America is addressing this need to have highly effective teachers, to have a community of educators behind our students," said Laukitis.
Alford says many of her students need to improve their reading and writing skills. She motivates them using videos and music.
She says she taught the children hand gestures to make school fun.
"And actually those snaps and claps and cheers are really where I get to see they're learning from the lesson, when they're confused and when they've mastered something," noted Alford.
And it helps students like Luis Mota, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic, stay focused.
"She makes the lessons very interesting because she likes to act and I admire that," said Mota.
Alford says many minority students are not encouraged to go to college. She attended Harvard University. Even though she was a top student, she says she would not be where she is without the support she got from her parents and teachers.
"And I was one of the few minority students who was in the advanced classes," added Alford. "I never thought Harvard was possible until other people told me that it was."
Alford wants her students to know they can also go to college.
"I really do believe that if I treat students with high standards, that even when they leave my classroom they will hold themselves to those standards, and my wish for all of them is that they would go on to college, if that's what's best for them," Alford added.
Kimyah Dockery says Alford motivates her.
"And she knows that we can be better," said Dockery. "We can do things with our lives. We can go to college, so that really inspires me."
Alford says Teach for America has also changed her life.
"This is what I want to do, and I am able to now I think about staying in education, and just feeling like so many doors are open to me because I came through this program," said Alford.
Alford is studying for her teaching certification and plans to continue working with students after her job with Teach For America ends next year.