- Michigan Student Prevails in First Amendment Claim against Teacher - July 17, 2013
- Michigan High School Bans Athletic Prayer - July 9, 2013
- Surviving Teach for America: What I Learned from the Corps - July 2, 2013
- Supreme Court Rules on Affirmative Action Case - June 26, 2013
- The First Amendment and Student Dress Codes - April 15, 2013
- Testing Pressure Leads to a Criminal Indictment - April 1, 2013
- Planning for the Future: Special Needs Students' Transition Plan - February 20, 2013
- Protecting the Protectors: Limited Liability from Students’ Lawsuits - February 14, 2013
- Teacher Tenure- An Ancient Policy Or Is It Still Needed? - January 8, 2013
- Are More Gun Control Laws Needed? - December 31, 2012
As I just finished my two-year commitment with Teach for America, I cannot help but think back on this journey I have just completed. Never in a million years did I think I would be in front of a classroom teaching children. Never in a billion years did I think teaching would have such a profound impact on how I think about myself and view the world. Surviving Teach for America is more than just achieving alumni status or receiving the AmeriCorps educational award. Surviving Teach for America means that I committed to improving the lives of my students and my community.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not have a sappy story about TFA. Sometimes I really liked the Corps and what it stands for. Other times, I seriously questioned my decision to join the organization and the teaching profession as a whole – especially since I am a lawyer.
I absolutely love the practice of law. It is a thinking person’s profession. But, I also love learning and education. As a child, school was my saving grace. My parents did not have the financial means to put my sister and I in sports or dance classes when we were much younger. However, books and learning were always free. So, I spent a lot of time reading and applying what I learned in the classroom. I was a whiz kid in school.
Joining Teach for America was not really a hard decision for me, even though I was not a typical applicant. I was about to graduate law school in a few months. I was 25 years old at the time. And, I was not joining the Corps because I did not know what I wanted to do in life. I was going to be an attorney. I wanted to join the Corps because I was drawn to the major civil rights issue that Teach for America and many individuals are battling – the lack of quality education for all students.
I remember receiving my acceptance email from TFA a few weeks shy of my law school graduation. I was excited for about 2.5 seconds until I saw the content area I was assigned to teach – mathematics. I was told that I was placed in this subject because it is a high-need area. After praying about it, I decided to accept the offer to join the Corps. I was always great at math and took a couple math courses in college. So, I decided to spend part of the summer brushing up on my math skills.
I survived the TFA Summer Institute, which is the summer training program for incoming corps members. I met a lot of great people there that I am still connected to. As a the first day of school of my first year of teaching quickly approached, I felt less and less nervous. I thought, “I have the support of Teach for America. I will be fine.” That statement is both true and false.
Teach for America has a lot of resources available to Corps Members. Whether it is lesson plans, assessments, or someone in your content area, there is a way to get the resources you need.
But, I wish I did not rely so much on TFA during my first year of teaching. I thought that lesson plans, unit plans, and assessments would be one-click away. (They were actually one-click away but they were not aligned to my content area. I had to create a lot from scratch.) Furthermore, I did not receiving the mentoring that was promised to all TFA Corps Members. I was good at teaching. I had great classroom management and organizational skills. But, since I was a good teacher, my TFA mentor did not visit my classroom as much. Some may see this as a good thing. But, at the end of the day, I was still a first year teacher. I still needed support.
On the outside, I looked like a happy teacher. However, I was very miserable. I had a lot on my plate at the time. I was studying for the bar exam, working full-time (which is a no-no while studying for the bar), and trying to figure out whether I wanted to continue in teaching. In the midst of all this internal angst, I switched schools. This was the biggest blessing in disguise because at my new school, I met Fran Warren, the founder and owner of The Educator’s Room! (And, I did pass the bar the first time. So, I felt like I had options should I choose to leave the teaching profession.)
I decided to stay for a second year and I was determined to make it better. I was going to have control of my teaching future and develop this new thing that Fran taught me – my “teacher brand.” I was not going to place my teacher development in anyone else’s hands. Not the district. Not Teach for America. This did not mean that I would not use the district and Teach for America as resources. It simply meant that I was going to be the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.
I made an effort to attend Teach for America’s Corps Member professional development sessions that they hosted. Unlike my first year, I actually went to the sessions. Some sessions were extremely great and got me excited about the work of Teach for America. Other sessions were not so great and did not pique my interest.
During my second year, I still did not receive the personalized mentoring from TFA. But, that is okay because I sought my own mentoring relationships, especially from former Corps Members. One of my good friends at my school just completed TFA. I learned so much from her about organizing, planning and goal-setting.
Being a Corps Member with TFA is a unique experience that I would not change for anything in the world. Here are the top five things that I have learned as a member of Teach for America.
1. Always have a plan – Success starts with writing down a plan, following the plan, and modifying the plan when it does not work. Set benchmarks and goals and see it come into fruition.
2. Collaborate with others – No one operates on an island. When cannot make it alone.
3. Develop your craft – Whether you are a teacher, lawyer, or homemaker, always seek opportunities to develop your craft.
4. Find mentors – Seek the advice of those who came before you. Listen to them and learn from their mistakes.
5. Develop your teacher brand – Your teacher brand is what makes you unique in the marketplace of educators. Know what skills will set you apart.
I do not yet know where my teaching career will lead me. But, I know that I learned a lot over the last two years. I learned about perseverance, hope, endurance, faith, imagination, compassion, and, most importantly, integrity.
I don’t know how many years I will be in the classroom. I don’t know whether I want to continue teaching math. I don’t know what role I will play in the education movement.
But, I do know one thing – I survived Teach for America!