CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Kinsey Walker began teaching kindergarten in Mississippi, she had to adjust to many things -- the first being the honesty of a 5-year-old child.
"When you are 5, you don't really have a filter," Walker said with a laugh. "You know if they say it, they probably really mean it."
Walker, a 22-year-old South Charleston native, has been teaching in Hazelhurst, Miss., since July, when she started as a Teach for America teacher.
Teach for America is a competitive AmeriCorps-style alternative teaching program that recruits top college graduates to teach in some of the most underprivileged school districts in the nation for two years.
As a kindergarten teacher, Walker said her students see her as "a second mom. It's been interesting to be so motherly.
"When they do things, they get so excited and say, 'I'm smart,'" she said. "Hearing them say they can do something and have that self-affirmation is a great feeling."
Walker said many students in the Mississippi Delta and other rural areas, such as in West Virginia, come in to school "as real statistics. They are two years behind and they have these benchmarks to meet.
"When they do something right, and they have that self-confidence at 5, that is what wakes me up every morning," Walker said.
Walker was majoring in philosophy and pre-law at the College of Wooster, near Cleveland, when she watched "Waiting for Superman," a documentary that analyzes the failures of the American public education system by following several students who are trying to be accepted into a charter school.
"There was so much going on outside of West Virginia that I would have never known about," she said. "It really woke me up."
Teach for America, founded 21 years ago, has been in the Mississippi Delta for 20 years and has teachers in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
Ideally, Walker would have liked to be stationed in West Virginia, but Teach for America is not organized within the state.
Teach for America did open an Appalachia branch in April 2011, with 30 members serving as first-year teachers in some of Eastern Kentucky's highest-needs schools. TFA has said it plans to bring 90 teachers to understaffed schools in the area in the next three years.
However, the program can't take off in West Virginia because state law doesn't allow for nontraditional teachers, Heather Deskins, general counsel for the state Department of Education has said.
State law requires a new alternatively certified teacher to have 18 hours of training as a teacher and a bachelor's degree in the subject area they want to teach.
"There is still no viable alternative teacher pathway, and that's obviously a barrier to TFA," Natalie Laukitis, TFA's director of regional communications, has said previously. "That barrier is fairly concrete. Unfortunately, there's been no real movement in West Virginia on that piece."
Additionally, West Virginia's two main teacher unions oppose hiring TFA teachers.
"I personally don't believe in Teach For America," Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association said earlier this week.
He said it would be "lowering standards" to let Teach for America teachers into classrooms.