Like most education policies or programs, Teach For America is widely scrutinized. The well-known nonprofit organization has been the topic of many news articles, many of which imply that the program consists of unknowledgeable college students who aren’t ready to confront the reality of low-income school districts. Well, there’s no denying that this may be the case for some students, however it’s unfair to make such broad generalizations. Additionally, some assert that Teach For America “core members” might lack perspective and experience necessary to connect with students in these school districts. However, empathy is a universal emotion and isn’t contingent on having similar life style.
When searching for future careers, Teach For America stood out to me. The program seems to have genuine intentions, which is what initially attracted me to it. Like most in the Education minor, I have a strong interest and passion for equitable education reform. However, I firmly believe that five courses and a strong base of knowledge in politics isn’t enough to make legitimate contributions to education policy. Teach For America is an outlet for me to gain perspective and recognize real needs in schools. Of course, many schools need new books and technology, but there are more than just tangible needs. I believe that a school is more than just a place of learning. It’s a safe haven and hub for creativity and ambition. Schools don’t need to be adorned with recognition or teeming with technology to produce successful and motivated students. Schools need empathetic and motivated teachers as well as enough resources necessary to make students feel like they have what is necessary to succeed.
People have also asked me “what makes you think you’re cut out to teach in those kinds of communities?” Well, my high school in Maine catered to the needs of a large percentage of low-income students. Many students had free or reduced lunch, parents who worked multiple jobs, minimal access to new clothing or hygienic products, etc. I also attended college in Boston, where I volunteered at an after school program in Roxbury. Roxbury is a “neighborhood” in Boston where approximately one out of every ten people are a victim of crime, drop out rates are high, and the median income is well below average. Roxbury is the epitome of low-income stereotypes, and unfortunately history and even current institutions in place continually reinforce them. At the after school program, I tutored children on various subjects and assisted the directors of the program in brainstorming certain activities that are both fun and educational. Some of the children were extremely receptive to tutoring, however most children had already appeared to give up on schooling. One seventh grader said to me, “it’s not like I’m even going to college, that will just be a dream.” No child should ever feel discouraged from pursuing more than what is “expected.”
In addition to tutoring, I observed a teacher and teacher assistant in a Roxbury middle school. The school was once again in a low-income community, and the quality of the building and supplies reflected that. Classes had cardboard in the windows, few textbooks, minimal decorations, broken desks, and teachers who made it evident that they’ve given up on students. The school was pending review to be closed if students didn’t achieve certain test cores. Teachers were forced to teach strictly to the standardized tests and students were forced to sit quietly and absorb facts. Schools like this need the most help, and it’s not because there are poor quality teachers, unmotivated students, and administrators who have no hope in the school. It’s due to inequitable schooling, inherent biases in testing, and institutional neglect. I don’t necessarily believe that Teach For America is the remedy for systemic unfairness in schools by any stretch of the imagination. However, I hope to use Teach For America as an asset to one-day try to make an imprint in the realm of education, however that might be.