Following her heart as a teacher, at last
Rachel Herrera’s first experience as a teacher came when she was 16—in a classroom where most of her students were twice her age.
Herrera was a high school student in Thousand Oaks, Calif., looking to gain community service experience. There was an elementary school nearby, and her Spanish teacher suggested she teach English to the students’ parents, many of whom were Mexican immigrants.
“I fell in love with it,” Herrera says. She hasn’t stopped teaching since then—but only recently did she decide to make it her career.
While working toward a bachelor’s degree in engineering at Princeton University, Herrera volunteered with a group that taught English to low-literacy adults in nearby Trenton; she not only taught classes but also became a program leader, helping improve the curriculum and train other teachers. After graduation she taught English at a technical college in Mexico on a Fulbright fellowship. Then, while working as a business consultant for Deloitte in Washington, D.C., she spent Saturdays teaching civics and history to people who were studying for the U.S. citizenship test.
It was at Deloitte that Herrera realized she was in the wrong line of work. “I didn’t really feel fulfilled in my consulting career,” she says, “and I realized I was spending my spare time doing something that I could actually make a career out of. So why not just switch?”
Herrera applied to the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP), choosing it in part for its emphasis on social justice and in part because it’s a one-year, intensive program where students dive into student teaching right from the start—in Herrera’s case, teaching science to eighth graders at Aptos Middle School. Once she finishes the program, she hopes to teach high school physics, particularly in an underserved community.
She’s thrilled to be doing something she loves, and to be part of a community of like-minded people. “The leadership of the program, the professors, the TAs—everyone is so supportive, and really dedicated to the life that we’ve all chosen,” she says. “Everyone is so passionate here, and I love it. I’m very happy to finally be making a career out of this.”