Where We Go From Here
It’s hard to sum up these past two years.By Jacob Brooks
My experience as a Teach For America teacher has been so dynamic, so rewarding, and so unpredictable. Actually, that is an appropriate way to describe this experience: “Unpredictable.”
Two years ago, if you would have told me that I would be teaching Special Education in Nashville, Tennessee, I would have called you a liar. If you would have told me I would be managing teachers as a grade level chair, I would have called you a liar. But, then again, if you would have told me those things, you would have been telling the truth.
I was in survival mode my first semester. My prayer for the day went something like this: “Dear God, I know you’re up there, and I know this situation is comical to you. Please give me the strength to make it to 3:30 p.m., and, by some miracle, let me teach these kids something. I also promise to stop saying bad words under my breath. Oh, and please let traffic be clear on my way home. Amen.” It wasn’t much, but it seemed to do the trick.
I never knew what was going to happen one moment to the next. In one class, I would have a student who refused to do any work. In the next class, I would have a student turn in immaculate work with a smile. Later in the day, I would have an hour-long conversation with an upset parent while stuck in rush hour traffic (some parts of my prayer would go unanswered). I always knew educators were more than teachers, but I truly did not realize it until I had experienced it.
Teachers are mentors, coaches, guidance counselors, advocates and so much more. I’ll never forget making sure I called two of my students, each night, to help them with their homework. I’ll never forget the moments on the basketball court when I was trying to teach students who had only ever played soccer to shoot a lay-up. I’ll never forget the parents who were so kind, so generous, and would invite me over for a home-cooked meal as a way to say thank you. These experiences, and so much more, have made me proud to be an educator.
While I am grateful for this opportunity and am excited to continue my career as an educator, I cannot help but feel a sense of anger that there is a need for a program like Teach For America to exist. The purpose of this program is to recruit high-achieving individuals to teach in some of America’s most underserved school districts. Why? Because these school districts a) lack the resources needed to generate and maintain a successful school district and b) because these districts lack resources, they have difficulty keeping high-quality educators in the district.
Programs like Teach For America and Urban Teachers step in to support these districts and help meet their demand for teachers. Unfortunately, while these programs are effective, they are a Band-Aid solution to a systemic problem, but a systemic problem that can be fixed! I am excited for the day when our state and federal legislatures discuss educational issues with the same vigor and passion as they do media-sensationalized topics. I am excited for the day when the role of an educator is revered to the same degree as an engineer, lawyer or doctor. I am excited for the day when every child, regardless of demographic factors, has access to a quality education.