By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Christina Anderson never planned to be a teacher. She also never planned to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, study abroad at the University of Ghana and Cambridge University or conduct research in Brazil.
But at 22, the West Rowan High School graduate has done all those things.
Anderson said she probably would have stayed in Rowan County, worked at Food Lion and attended Rowan-Cabarrus Community College had English teachers Claire Rehkopk and Sherry Avery not encouraged her to do more.
“They put me on a different life track,” she said. “I feel like those teachers opened me up to a life that I would have never known.”
That’s why Anderson said she was drawn to work with Teach for America, a national nonprofit organization that works to eliminate educational inequity by sending top college graduates to urban and rural public schools.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be a teacher,” Anderson said “But I wanted to be that Claire Rehkopk for a student, that person who makes a difference in the lives of kids.”
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Anderson is one of 5,200 new Teach for America Corps members who is receiving training this summer.
She said more than 48,000 people applied for a slot in the program this year.
When Anderson found out about the program from a recruiter earlier this year she decided to delay her plans to enter law school in favor of a two-year teaching stint.
“I realize the impact that teachers have,” she said.
Anderson said as a first-generation high school graduate who grew up in a single parent home she never expected to go to UNC.
But Avery and Rehkopk didn’t allow her to settle.
“(Mrs. Avery) initiated that spark in me,” Anderson said. “She was the first teacher that was really honest with me and said OK you are smart, but you are being lazy.”
Anderson said after that she stopped cruising through high school and started applying herself.
“She definitely instilled in me that you have to want more,” she said.
And when Anderson landed in Rehkopk’s class as a senior, the teacher started encouraging her to apply for college.
“I racked up so many scholarships because she worked with me on applications,” she said. “I really love this lady because she never said ‘no’ if I needed something.”
Anderson said Rehkopk kept her on her toes when it came to her studies.
“She held me at a higher standard,” Anderson said. “When people hold you to a higher standard, you realize they really care about you.”
But Rehkopk said Anderson was always the driving force behind her success.
“It was not a challenge to help her,” she said. “I felt really privileged to be part of it.”
And Rehkopk said she wasn’t the only person who noticed Anderson’s potential.
“Everybody saw something in her,” she said. “She was just an able communicator and always able to see things as they were.
“I don’t think she understood the talent she possessed in terms of being able to see beyond the surface of things.”
Rehkopk said she’s proud to see Anderson go on to work with Teach for America.
“Teach for America, I belive, is an effort on her part to give back and I’m very impressed by that,” she said. “I’m also anxious for her to get back to her research and back to her graduate studies.”
Rehkopk said she isn’t surprised Anderson was chosen for Teach for America.
“(She) is exactly the role model that you need,” she said. “It is possible to go from being in as difficult a circumstance as you can imagine in terms of having to keep you head above water in a material sense while trying to achieve academically at the same time.
“She not only did it, she did it as well or better than people with far more advantages than she had.”
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When Anderson begins teaching middle school in the Charlotte region this fall, she hopes to provide her students with the encouragement Avery and Rehkopk gave her.
“I want to help kids see opportunities outside of what they normally see,” she said. “I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to be superwoman, because I’m not. I just want to be a positive influence.”
Anderson has already gotten a taste of what this fall will be like during a five-week training session in the Mississippi Delta.
She taught U.S. History to students at Gentry High School. The summer school course was a second chance for students who failed during the year.
“It was terrifying at first because there I was with a group of students who need this class to graduate,” she said. “But after a few days, I got the hang of it.”
A political science and history major while at UNC, Anderson said she wasn’t exactly ready to teach right out of school.
But she said Teach for America has given her the skills and support she needs.
Corps members receive more than 10 weeks of training during the summer and professional development on weekends throughout the year.
Anderson said she’s ready to get into the classroom.
“I want to take a realistic approach and individualize student goals,” she said. “I think it is really important that you differentiate your lessons to make sure each student is learning.”
And although Anderson wants to see each student succeed in the classroom, she also hopes to leave them with hope for the future.
“I want to equip my students with the tools to make their own decisions and not follow a cycle that has been passed down,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
By Sarah Campbell