Teach For America South Carolina 2014
Physics and Engineering Teacher, Bethpage High School
Tess Curry Strauch found it very nice to ride through Manning, South Carolina.
High over the town, a billboard displayed her beaming face – conspicuous recognition as “Teacher of the Year” for Clarendon School District Two.
“I feel that Manning embraced me,” said Strauch. “I cared about the community too, not just teaching science.”
In 2014, she was placed by Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) to teach at Manning High School, and over three years, Strauch had students excited about learning physics, physical science, and environmental science – all core to STEM education. State leaders growingly support STEM curriculum as foundational to build a highly educated and skilled workforce who will attract innovative companies to communities like Manning.
In addition to teaching, Strauch coached varsity and junior varsity soccer and worked as an assistant coach for varsity basketball. She also somehow found time to serve as an advisor to the school’s National Honor Society and Health and Wellness Committee.
Strauch was doing what came naturally.
“Both my parents are teachers, and my brother is a professor of philosophy,” she said. “I’ve got aunts and uncles in education. Teaching has always been near my heart.”
She majored in biology at William & Mary with a special interest in ornithology. Strauch spent time before her senior year in a collaborative teaching program in Philadelphia, and she “fell in love,” as she put it.
“It was clear to me that teaching was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she said.
Strauch applied to TFASC to get real-world classroom experience and to earn a degree in education without changing her biology major and staying in college another year.
She found her classroom inspiration in a phrase from the movie Friday Night Lights.
“Clear eyes. Full heart. Can’t lose,” quoted Strauch. “To me, it means you can’t lose if you keep trying. That really hit home for me with TFASC’s emphasis on building relationships.”
She immediately saw how relationships mattered.
“When I showed students that I was open to listening and caring about them as individuals, they started coming and hanging out for an hour after school,” she said. “They were motivated to do well on their classwork and exams because they wanted me to witness them succeed.”
Strauch has relocated closer to her Northeastern origins. She started a school in Brooklyn in 2017, then in 2020, she became a physics and engineering teacher at Bethpage High School in New York.
Looking back, she sees how valuable STEM teaching will be for South Carolina.
“I believe the future is STEM,” she said. “It’s the road to the future. We need more STEM teachers because the students are coming.”