To be honest, I did not plan on becoming a teacher. I didn’t major in traditional education (though I do have a degree in Dance Education). As a freshman in college, I imagined that I would graduate from college, suffer through grad school, and come out with a decent job and a lot of student loans.
Now the logical question is “So, how did you become an eighth grade English teacher?”
I can definitely attribute my passion for reading back to one of my psychology professors. Learning about the cognitive processes behind reading was, and still is, fascinating to me. I became so passionate about the cognitive reading processes that I embarked on an independent study and specifically looked at the relationship between reading and socioeconomic status. This eventually became motivation for me to apply to Teach For America during my senior year of college. I joined the TFA – Houston corps in 2013.
Though there were many professors that I could say were major influences on me, they are not the people I think of immediately. When considering whether or not I wanted to apply to the Teach For America corps, I turned to my former middle school teachers – who also happened to be a TFA alumni. Looking back on my experience as a student in their classes, I realize that it wasn’t their content knowledge that made an impact but rather their passion, commitment and fierce love for what they did.
As a military brat, I moved constantly and experienced a range of different teaching styles. I moved back to Houston to start fifth grade at KIPP:3D Academy. I was also starting as a student in the “pioneer” class, which was great for me because that meant that everyone was new. The culture built by our teachers and school leader was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Our teachers were considerably younger than any teachers I remember having, but even if they were new to teaching, they never let it show.
For the first time, I saw teachers as people and not some separate other worldly being. I remember my teachers being vulnerable and sharing their shortcomings openly. These teachers wanted to build relationships regardless of differences in race or socioeconomic status. Even after I left KIPP, I still remained and continue to remain in touch with a few of these teachers. I still see my school leader who still works for the region, and both my brothers have been involved with KIPP and, consequently, Teach For America. My decision to join TFA was primarily based on the experience I had with my TFA teachers.
Recently, Ernest Owens article wrote an article, Take a Time Out, Teach for America, where he discussed his views about the organization. As a current corps member and student of corps members myself, I feel incredibly passionate about his opinions on TFA. I feel so strongly because his experience was the complete opposite of my experience as both a student and an educator. Owens frustration about ill prepared teachers in Teir 1 programs is well founded because these students don’t just need teachers. They need people who are willing to work through challenging situations and believe that every child deserves to have a top notch education.
While seasoned teachers obviously have experience, we can’t forget that even the best teachers were first year teachers at some point. Teacher preparation and development is constant and ongoing. It is up to each professional to become better at their craft. My colleagues and I work with our English department, and I also get support from TFA in the form of observations, time to collaborate, sessions, and courses. It’s an incredibly humbling experience to know you are never going to be done learning and that no matter how long you are in the classroom, you are not going to have all the answers. I also know that content mastery isn’t everything; I know my students want to see me as a person – flaws and all.
Ultimately both Owens and I had different experiences with the Teach For America teachers. While I’m sure that there are other students of corps members and corps members themselves who have had different experiences, I know that TFA always encourages feedback and incorporates it almost immediately. I was (and still am honored) to be a part of an organization that listens and responds to its members and won’t forget the positive influence my teachers, TFA and non-TFA, had on my path in life.