As TCNJ education majors finish up their classes this semester, they are more prepared than ever to enter the classrooms where they will teach. They’ve got the knowledge — that’s what TCNJ does best. But thanks to some faculty and alumni, they’re also well-equipped with items that traditionally can be difficult for budding teachers to get.
Looking the part
Since 2017, Maureen Connolly, associate professor of education administration and secondary education and Carla Woodward of the Support for Teacher Education Programs Office, have worked with faculty and staff across campus and partner K-12 schools to collect gently used professional clothing for a “Dress for Success” clothing drive. Each year, thousands of professional clothing items are donated.
This year’s sale put over 527 pieces of clothing and accessories in the hands of over 150 students across campus. At $1 or $2 per piece, that’s also $1,054 raised from the sale and donated to support The Shop at TCNJ, the college’s on-campus food pantry.
A portion of the remaining clothing was selected to be available for students throughout the academic year as needs arise. The rest was donated to Anchor House, a transitional living program serving homeless youth between the ages of 18 and 21 in Mercer County and across New Jersey.
“It’s a win-win-win!” said Connolly. “We help students build their professional wardrobes, provide basic necessities to college students, and help local youth put their best foot forward and make their way into the workforce.”
Zoe Talbot, a senior English and secondary education major, helped organize the event with Kappa Delta Pi education honor society and walked away with six pairs of pants for “an incredible total of $12.”
“It’s such an important event because students should have equitable access to clothes for interviews, student teaching, and their overall careers; it also keeps the donated clothes out of landfills, making the event affordable and sustainable,” she said.
Stocking teacher libraries
It can take years for young teachers to build their classroom libraries, and as an English teacher in Lindenwold, Larry Abrams MAT ’01 learned that from experience. Since 2017, his non-profit BookSmiles has collected hundreds of thousands of books to distribute at no-cost to teachers.
Abrams recently brought his operation to campus, where more than 130 TCNJ students signed up to build their future classroom libraries.
“I came out with 20 books! A great head start for my library,” said Brittany Cheng, who is graduating from TCNJ’s five-year program in special education this year. Cheng’s new collection is a mix of subjects and reading levels to support the range of learners who may join her future classroom, and even includes classics like The Berenstain Bears and Clifford the Big Red Dog — books Cheng says she loved as a child.
“Also, I was able to get my hands on books that had a person of color as a main character so children in my classroom could find a book they could read, or look at and say, ‘Oh, that looks like me’ to help them feel more comfortable, accepted, and involved. Nobody gets left out in my classroom!” she said.
Building a professional wardrobe and classroom library are some of the many hidden costs of starting a teaching career, says Tabitha Dell’Angelo, interim dean of the School of Education.
“Dress for Success and BookSmiles normalize the reality that many college students do not have the disposable income to buy the kinds of clothes they would like to have for these occasions or to invest in books to fill their new classroom shelves,” she said.
— Emily W. Dodd ’03