by Claire Miller
In middle school, Devin Thornton often spent his afternoons staying late after class to help, getting to know his teachers. But he didn’t truly consider becoming an educator himself until his eighth grade science teacher suggested it.
“I gave him a suggestion for how to decorate his classroom and he said to me, ‘You have the heart of a soldier with the brain to teach a nation,’” said Thornton, a senior in the College of Education’s Department of Early Childhood Education. “I thought about what he said for a few days, and it just hit me — I wanted to be a teacher.”
Thornton had the opportunity to explore this career path further when he and 33 of his classmates attended the College of Education’s first Academy for Future Teachers (AFT) in 2004. The academy, which was funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Partnership for Reform in the Instruction of Science and Mathematics (PRISM) grant, gave Thornton, then a rising junior at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, the opportunity to learn about lesson planning and teaching math and science.
“It was a start,” he said. “It gave us all a good behind-the-scenes look at what teachers go through on a daily basis.”
Thornton continued to attend AFT summer workshops through his senior year, when he made the decision to attend Georgia State University to pursue education. And because he already knew the campus well through participation in AFT, the transition from high school to college that fall was easier than it might otherwise have been.
What he didn’t know was that he would continue to attend AFT – this time in an instructive capacity.
“The Atlanta Public Schools liaison for AFT e-mailed me and said she wanted me to be a team leader with the program,” Thornton said. “I’ve enjoyed that experience, and I’ve done it every year since. At first, it was a little challenging because I was only a year or two older than the participants at the time. But I was there to guide them and mentor them, and I always had a good time with the students.”
Thornton watched the program grow and change from the time he was in high school until now, and he believes it has only improved since its inception. High school students who participate in AFT now have the chance to teach in elementary, middle and high school settings and get an in-depth look at how to teach math and science.
In addition to working with AFT, Thornton is finishing his student teaching this semester in a fourth grade classroom at Centennial Place Elementary School in Atlanta. He hopes to join the faculty there after he graduates or find a similar position at another elementary school in the Atlanta area — as long as he can develop meaningful relationships with his students and work with a supportive faculty like he has so far at Centennial.
“The principal and the staff at Centennial have made me feel like I was a part of the faculty,” he said. “And I’ve been able to develop a good rapport with the students. I’ve loved working there.”
This story was originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of the College of Education's Milestones magazine.