I was recently emailed an infographic on Teach for America. I was told it was created to inform people about Teach For America’s impact on our country’s educational system. I love infographics, and I thought this one was pretty interesting, but I wanted to relate it to something more personal. So, I asked one of my long-time friends from high school about her specific experience in the Teach for America program and how it has impacted her. Following is an excerpt of what Mandy wrote in response to my inquiry, along with the infographic itself.
I taught at Frick Middle School in East Oakland for 3 years, and I loved my job. It was the most difficult, most draining, and most rewarding experience I have ever had. Teaching there allowed me a glimpse into a completely separate country within our country, and it gave me more understanding, respect and confidence. To say it was eye-opening is a colossal understatement.
My students came to school to learn and left baggage at my classroom door even when I couldn’t comprehend how they could do it. TFA demands that teachers have high expectations for all students, and I learned that all my students really were capable of meeting those standards. They showed me true respect, and they worked hard. I felt appreciated, respected and valued. My students met the standards, and often exceeded them. It definitely made me wonder why the suburban students, without many of the burdens in my school or community, couldn’t go further. I guess that’s my job now.
Off and on I wonder about the choices I’ve made. Usually it’s sparked by a news story about Oakland or message from one of my former students. A couple months ago I had an email conversation with a friend and teacher from Frick, who grew up in a similarly challenged neighborhood. I told her I felt like I’d stepped outside of what I need to do in life, and I’m watching the world go by without really making a difference. She replied that she is happy every day to know that there are teachers like me in schools like Hopedale. Without TFA, I’d just be another kid from Hopedale teaching in Hopedale. TFA helped me gain an entirely different perspective on myself, on the world, and on teaching.
~Mandy Eppley, Hopedale, MA
What I really like about Mandy’s response is how she relates her experience to giving back to the community in some way. Though she felt she stepped away from a bigger purpose, her friend pointed out that she is still serving that purpose by bringing what she has learned from the TFA experience in a traditional suburban setting. There are so many ways to give. Sometimes, we don’t realize we don’t even realize how much we are giving. [Thanks, Mandy!]
Do you have a Teach for America story? Feel free to share in the comments section.