The Friday Five is Teach For America's weekly roundup of education news, stories, and links that made us think. 

By most standards, my professional life was going well. At one of the largest firms in the country, I was practicing law in New York City and doing well in my field. Yet I had a nagging feeling that wouldn’t go away and became stronger with each passing day. Something was missing. Was I truly serving others to my fullest potential?


In the past few weeks, tragic incidents have occurred in multiple Muslim communities around the United States and Canada. The thoughts below are my own but based on reactions I have heard and received from Teach For America staff, alumni, family, and friends who have shared their thoughts and feelings with me. I encourage you to dig through the links included here and read more about the recent incidents that are taking place in some of our communities and how they are being described.       


My journey was improbable; some might even say impossible. My parents trekked on top of trains, waded across rivers, and traversed Texas forest for seven days to make their way from Mexico to the United States.  They settled in a mobile home park in California, where my father worked as a waiter and my mother as a homemaker and nanny, making a combined $35,000 a year. I, their proud son, majored in aerospace engineering and minored in psychology at the University of Southern California. Today I am a high school physics teacher in Los Angeles and get to travel the world, from Mexico to Spain to Puerto Rico, courtesy of fellowships and extolling the power of STEM education.

My low-income, Latino, engineering background shaped my life to wonderful fruition. As we mark Engineers Week (February 22-28), I’ve been thinking about the students who share my background. How can we ensure that science, technology, engineering, and math (collectively referred to as STEM) are resources for them to shape their own destinies?

For teachers, there will always be that one student you just have to talk about.

As a coach to 19 Teach For The Philippines Fellows, placed primarily with third graders, I have stopped counting the number of times they have told stories about the same students that make their days always interesting, usually followed by a  sigh or a scratch on the head.

And let me tell you, these are not just any third graders. They're the kids other teachers generally don't want to teach. They're the kids with "labels" on their heads; the kids who are so often misunderstood.

The Friday Five is Teach For America's weekly roundup of education news, stories, and links that made us think. 

Pass the Chalk

Teachers often find themselves on the margins of debates that directly impact their personal and professional lives. Teach to Lead seeks to change that. First launched in 2014, Teach to Lead is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Its goal is to expand teacher leadership opportunities, via its online community and regional summits, so “teachers play a more central role in transforming teaching and learning, and in the development of policies that affect their work.”

Teach For America is proud to be an official supporter of Teach to Lead, and encourages our family of corps members and alumni to participate in teacher leadership programs to embolden their own voices on behalf of their students.

Lori Halvorson

Like many graduating seniors, I was drawn to the idea of Teach For America and attended a few information sessions on campus. Ultimately, I decided to join the Peace Corps, which had always been my dream.

However, as my time in the Peace Corps progressed, I kept going back to Teach For America. The children in Burkina attended under-resourced, poorly staffed schools, so did children in the States. Children in Burkina were academically behind their peers of other nations, so were children in the States. Children in Burkina knew so little of the outside world and relied mainly on Jean Claude Van Damme movies to paint a picture of life in the U.S. Children in the States were presented limited, often-skewed representations of the outside world as well. I found myself thinking, “Burkina is one of the most impoverished, under-developed countries in the world. What is America’s excuse?” How were we not offering more to our children? 

Last week a photographer from The New York Times came to my classroom in rural North Carolina. I hadn’t sought the spotlight but when my administration asked me to open my doors, I did so happily—anything to help shine a light on the huge potential and real challenges facing students in communities like ours. Then, the article landed, and there we were, on the front page, in a story that had so very little to do with our own. 

As the story's photo caption notes, I’m a first year Teach For America corps member in Warrenton, NC. But my personal story actually begins elsewhere and much longer ago, in Decatur, Georgia, growing up with my sister and a mother who raised us on her own. With all the difficulties she faced, my mom believed in the power of education and worked hard to get us to the best district she could. Seemingly constant redistricting made this particularly tough. But we had the support of our church, our community, and a few teachers who changed the future for our family forever.

Pass the Chalk

For Kadeem Gill (NYC ’11), teaching is personal. When he was growing up in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, he was confronted every day with the ways in which school systems had failed his younger brother, who had an individualized education program (IEP) for behavioral and emotional challenges, and the community at large. Gill eventually left New York to attend Princeton University, but during his sophomore year, the unthinkable happened: his older brother was killed.

“I had no idea how to put myself back together,” Gill says, adding that his way of coping with the loss was to give back to others. He started volunteering as a dance instructor in the Princeton community and decided to apply to Teach For America. In 2011, he officially launched his teaching career in the Bronx, just a few miles from his old stomping grounds in Bed Stuy.


About Us

We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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The thoughts, ideas, and opinions expressed on Pass the Chalk are the responsibility of individual bloggers. Unless explicitly stated, blog posts do not represent the views of Teach For America as an organization. 

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