Five years after leaving Dallas to attend Fordham University, T.J. Alcalá, FCRH ’13, GSE ’14, is back at his high school alma mater. He’s teaching math at Cistercian Prep, supported by a fellowship from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, which provides STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachers with stipends for professional development.
When did you become interested in teaching?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher until my freshman year at Fordham. I was taking an honors course on Euclidean geometry that just floored me. I understood the basics, and my peers started looking to me for help. I loved helping [them]build their own understanding.
You’ve traveled a lot, both on your own and through Fordham’s Global Outreach program. How have your travels informed your desire to teach?
A family friend of mine traveled to Gulu in Uganda and spent some time at a high school there, where they have an annex for blind kids. She invited me to come, and I tutored a student named Bazil. He had to pass a national exam, and he was doing well in every subject except math. I was probably the least qualified person in the world to teach a blind student math, [but]I tried to come up with different ways to teach him, [and]he taught me Braille. After I got home, I received an email that said Bazil had passed the exam, and he was one of the first blind students in Uganda to ever do so. It was another step in the universe telling me that I should teach.
How will the Knowles fellowship help you in your early years as a teacher?
For the next five years I’ll be getting support, like grants for materials and professional development. And I’ll be a part of a huge community of teachers very excited about what they do and constantly trying to become better.
What do you think of the Common Core standards?
My experience with the Common Core was in my student teaching, in a middle school in the Bronx, M.S. 331, and a high school, Bronx Collegiate Academy. Those standards make sense. They are good goals. They’re very well thought out. The idea that we are assessing our students on these standards as if students are all the same is the scary part.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Nicole LaRosa.