It’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, and Wyatt Smith is still in his classroom. The day started 12 hours ago, back when his green tie was firmly in place and his khakis were neatly pressed â€“ before the classes, parent phone calls, and the three-hour Mandarin lesson for 13 inner-city students at George Washington Carver High School in Birmingham, Ala.
For this teacher, long hours are just part of the job description.
“The students I teach haven’t had a lot of cards fall their way,” says Mr. Smith while grading a stack of papers in his third-floor classroom. “Through no fault of their own, they’re in situations in which the margin for error is zero. For many of them, the prospects of going to college, getting through college, and becoming part of the workforce as a professional are incredibly slim.”
For the past two years, Smith has been working tirelessly to increase those odds. He came to Carver High School as part of the Teach For America program, a nonprofit effort to place highly ambitious recent college graduates in the nation’s most underprivileged schools.
Though he also serves as Carver High School’s ACT Test coach, student government adviser, and debate team supervisor, Smith’s efforts have focused on a project he calls Birmingham to Beijing, a program geared to fully immerse his inner-city students in Chinese language and culture.