So now for the big questions: What is Teach for America? What will I be doing as a part of the movement?
Teach for America is an organization that recruits successful college students and post college leaders to teach in some of the nation’s neediest classrooms. They are a huge agent in the movement for educational equity, with the motto that “one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”
I have to say that before I became a part of the organization, I had really mixed feelings. TFA works on an alternative certification path, so most of its members do not hold a traditional degree in education (though a college degree in general is a requirement for entrance.) Many teachers may fear that new teachers without a college education background could not possibly be ready for life in some of the nation’s most difficult classrooms. I tended to agree. On this count, I have completely changed my mind. It also bothered me that many TFA members only stuck out their two years in the classroom, then moved on to jobs outside of the education field, or other opportunities like law or med school. I am a huge believer that change can only be made if people stay invested, and high turnover is one of those things that really hurts our students.
From what I have experienced so far, TFA is extremely dedicated to training successful teachers. Mediocrity is not an option here. They want teachers who will produce 1.5-2 year gains for their students, who are often far behind grade level. A normal year’s learning is not enough for those students. They are a very, very data driven organization that researches everything they do, from what qualities make a successful teacher to what types of support are needed for teachers, to how to achieve their biggest goal of “transformational change.” The goal of teaching, for TFA, is to make a lasting impact on your students’ lives that long outlives their time in your classroom. I absolutely love the focus on transformational change, because it is the only thing that can break the cycle of kids lost in the low performing school districts. At the same time, TFA considers themselves only one fraction of the entire movement for this transformational change in children’s lives, and I really love the humility that I have witnessed thus far.
So, for me, that means that I will spend the summer learning the tools to be a successful teacher and practicing daily under the watchful eye of a mentor teacher. Last week, I spent a couple of days in Kansas City for induction, where we delved into getting to know the city, the corps, and ourselves. This week, and for the next four after that, we are in Tulsa in what can only be described as an education boot camp. This week will be filled with sessions on everything from creating an actively anti-racist classroom to lesson planning to using the resources to meeting the community here to anything else you can think of. The people resources here are fantastic- school director, former corps member leaders, social justice leaders, curriculum specialists, operations managers- there is such a wealth of information available to us just from the people alone. I am at a fairly small school site (40 members) that is run by the Community Action Project (CAP) here in Tulsa. They serve birth- four year olds from low income communities with the idea that early childhood education is one of the best ways to get these kids ahead. With a team of three other teachers, I will be teaching a mixed class of threes, fours, and fives. We are going into a teacher’s room here at CAP, which she is turning over to us and she will in turn mentor and guide us for the next four weeks. I am really excited to get into the classroom! This whole week of information sessions is definitely going to take a toll.
When I return, I will have another week of orientation with the KC corps, then an orientation with the KC public school district (KCPS), and then I will begin teaching! I have an extremely unique position that will certainly challenge me. I will be teaching Kindergarten at the Foreign Language Academy, with 100% of my day in Spanish. It is an immersion school, so while half of the kids will come from families who speak Spanish at home, the other half will not. So, I will be teaching Spanish to half of the kids through immersion. To make things more interesting, there is not really a wide scale public preschool in KC, so many of my students will have never attended a pre-k program, meaning that they may come in not even knowing their letters. I’ll have 25 kids. I am super nervous and excited! I’ve been advocating for myself to find as many contacts and resources as early on as possible, because I know this will be quite the challenge. I am really excited to be teaching preschool this summer (and I’m the only one from KC doing so) because it will give me an insight into what “kindergarten readiness” really means. I have the challenge of pushing my kids two years ahead because I will first have to get them kindergarten ready, and then teach kindergarten! But yes, it will be an adventure. And one I am very lucky to be on.