My application to Teach for America first started as something I had quickly considered and filled out because I needed a job and thought teaching might be a good option for me. I was at the point where whatever happened, happened–I was following my life motto of everything happens for a reason.
About a week after the application was turned in, I started a part-time job as a English Language Learner (ELL) tutor in the New Haven Public school system because they needed one, I needed a new job, and I very fortunately had some connections within the department.
As cliche as it might sound, within the first week of working, my entire outlook on teaching and education had changed. At that point, I was simply assisting with administering a standardized exam. It was no doubt repetitive–I read the same prompts, stories and questions over and over and over, however, I always got different answers. I was thoroughly enjoying talking to all the students, interacting with them and seeing what they could do.
Beyond this, the education system was brought into a little better focus for me and I very quickly became passionate about the fact that some things were just not right and made it my personal mission to help this to some extent.
While I had been educated in this system, attended some of the very same schools that I was tutoring and working in, and graduated successfully from, being on the inside of the system taught me that there truly is an inequality in education that needs to be addressed. With my focus on students that are ELL, I get to see first-hand the way the “system” treats them, the way teachers treat them, and the way that they are almost set up for failure. I see students in 7th grade that don’t speak English, struggling through classes because they simply don’t understand. How is this kid going to go to high school? To college?
It sounds harsh to say that but it’s true. I see this with just the 60 or students that I know of and see. What about all the others? What about all the kids that aren’t ELL but are SPED, have reading problems or are simply “regular” students? Is this an accurate statement for them too? In these public, urban, low-income area schools, it is. And it’s a serious problem.
Right away, my application to TFA became more than a “we’ll see” kind of thing. It became a nerve-wracking process as I waited to see if I had been invited for an interview and then sat patiently until a decision had been made. I was passionate about this–I needed to do something.
On that fateful day, I was unsure. Is this what I want to do? Am I making the right decision? I thought it would take a little while to decide, after all, being a teacher is no easy task but as soon as I was welcomed to the TFA community as a potential elementary school teacher in Connecticut, I knew what I was going to do. I committed that very day.
TFA often gets a lot of flack for sending brand new teachers into areas they are unfamiliar with in an attempt to help with educational inequality. With about 15% of applicants accepted, being admitted into TFA isn’t an easy feat yet the organization is often criticized due to those that are picked: high ranking, smart, dedicated individuals that more often than not do not come from a playing field equal to their students. Throw in a short summer training period and a two-year commitment, it is often thought that these people are educated, yet unqualified and make bad teachers.
On my end, it’s difficult. I went to school with people that spent three years in an education program preparing to be in the classroom. They went through student teaching, educational instruction courses and received assistance in taking their exams. I on the other hand, will student teach for a few weeks, get additional training in the meantime and jump into the classroom in the fall. Do I feel ill-prepared? No. Can I understand why people think the way they do? Absolutely.
In one way though, I believe that TFA students are more qualified in certain aspects than those that spend years studying. What makes TFA members stand apart from the rest is the commitment to making a difference and the acknowledgement that being a teacher isn’t all about painting rainbows and reading stories in school. We are taught and educated about the areas we will teach in, understanding of the differences we might face and armed with a multitude of management skills to use when we begin.
TFA is more than just its mission and providing teachers to school–it’s a group of talented and intellectual individuals committed to making a change, up for a challenge and ready to make a difference in children’s lives. It’s an organization that I am excited about and incredibly proud to be a part of.