Jonathan Buckingham’s resume already made note of the top-secret clearance he received as a U.S. Navy communications officer; of his undergraduate degree from Boston University; of his spot on the Culinary Institute of America Dean’s List; of his certification as a sommelier; and of his position as a kitchen manager at a New York café operated by Chobani, the yogurt maker.

To that impressive list, Buckingham has now added what he calls “the golden ticket” in his ongoing non-traditional journey into teaching: an Abby M. O’Neill Fellowship at Teachers College.

THE ROAD LESS TAKEN Buckingham came to teaching through a job as a chef in the kitchen of an independent school.

Buckingham and seven other 2018-19 O’Neill Fellows have each received $40,000 in tuition assistance to fund their elementary or secondary teacher education master's degree programs, leading to initial certification.

The $10 million gift from O’Neill, a TC Trustee Emerita who passed away in 2017, enabled the college to launch the Abby M. O'Neill Fellowships – one of the nation's largest and most prestigious private teaching fellowships – for students who are committed to teaching in New York City classrooms following graduation.

Buckingham’s passion for teaching grew out of a job that brought him to the kitchen of an independent school in New York.

“My life shifted immediately,” he says. “Before I knew it I was engaged in both academic and extracurricular activities, eventually leading me to shed my chef’s jacket and step into the classroom as an early childhood associate teacher.”

Celia Oyler, Professor of Education, discussing the impact of TC’s new Abby M. O’Neill Teaching Fellows program

Although he knew how to run a kitchen, provide counsel on fine wines and manage communications aboard a naval vessel, Buckingham eventually realized he couldn’t fulfill what evolved into a “long-term” commitment to teaching without a graduate degree in education.

And while Teachers College stood atop the graduate schools on his list, the cost – both in tuition and off-campus student teaching assignments that would preclude full-time employment – posed a challenge.

Buckingham decided to apply anyway. TC, in response, opened the door to the possibility of an O’Neill Fellowship.

“I was speechless,” he says of the moment he learned of his selection as an O’Neill Fellow. “Words couldn’t quite describe my excitement.”

The Fellowship puts him in New York City classrooms doing what he believes he is meant to do.

I strongly believe that teachers in the New York City public education system are not only responsible for the academic enrichment of their students,” Buckingham wrote in his O’Neill application essay, “but often must also fill the role of friend, mentor and, dare I say, parental figure for their students."

—Jonathan Buckingham

“All teachers, both private and public, face many challenges. But I feel that in urban areas of high need there is such an immense range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds that public school teachers need to be trained, educated and mentally prepared to an even higher degree in order to effectively perform in their work environment.”

FUTURE TEACHERS The 2018-19 O'Neill Fellows. From left: Eden Heller, Gloriana Macagnone, Jonathan Buckingham, Sapna Chemplavil, Mariela Rosales, Roxana Ochoa, Heather Gorton, Andres Rodriguez-Aponte.

Learn more about the Abby M. O’Neill Fellowships. Incoming students who are eligible for the O’Neill fellowships should contact the  Office of Financial Aid for information about applying.


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