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Jessica Eastman Stewart, a 2005 Bay Area corps member, brings us the first post in a new series: TFA Love Stories. Jessica met that special someone at Teach For America institute, and while institute is not quite the "hopeless place" of the Rihanna song, it's probably not where Jessica expected to find love. Stay tuned for more TFA Love Stories in the coming weeks.
Teach For America institute: it brings back a variety of memories for all of us who have participated over the last few decades—good, bad, inspiring, intense, emotional, exhausting, and more.
I don’t remember much from my first day of induction in the Bay Area, but I do remember my first interactions with many of the staff and corps members that I am fortunate to call my friends today. One of those interactions was with a guy with shoulder-length bright red hair—not an easy guy to forget.
The Bay corps headed to LA at the end of the week for Institute—we bonded in our shared dorm throughout the summer over lesson plans, printers that never quite met our needs, a rollercoaster of steep learning curve highs and lows, and the SoCal heat. When we got back to the Bay, four of us were lucky to find a beautiful house in East Oakland to rent together. One of my roommates was that hard-to-forget redhead.
The four of us struggled through the emotional highs and lows of the first semester of teaching, and did our best to enjoy ourselves when we had some free time. We hosted parties for fellow corps members, graded papers together in the living room on Sundays, and ate dinner over episodes of 24.
It wasn’t until January that I started thinking about how Jonathon, that redhead, was a pretty fantastic guy overall. I’m not sure what took us so long, but after a few weeks we decided to make the crazy decision to start dating each other (I can’t say I’d generally recommend dating your roommate. It could easily turn out pretty awkwardly!). We supported and loved each other through the rest of our corps experience, and ended up marrying in May 2009, right as I was leaving the classroom after four years and Jon was finishing up his first year working at the central office of the Oakland Unified School District central. Our wedding day was amazing, and we were so glad to be joined by more than 20 fellow alumni.
We also made sure to send a note to Wendy Kopp when we married to say thanks for starting this revolutionary organization and for being the catalyst for the two of us finding each other. Shout-out to Wendy for sending back a sweet note that still is on our bulletin board!
We’re still here in Oakland after seven years—we truly love this town and plan to raise our future family here someday. Jonathon just finished his Masters of Public Policy at the UC Berkeley Goldman School, and is starting his new role as a data visualization analyst at Aspire Public Schools. I am the managing director at Great Oakland Public Schools, an education advocacy organization.
As much as we’re endlessly grateful to TFA Institute bringing us together many years ago, we’re now enjoying our Bay Area summers and contributing to the movement in ways that don’t include lesson plan deadlines, early morning bus rides to school, and red lunchboxes. To the 2012 corps currently at Institute—hang in there, it’s some of the best professional development you’ll ever get—and who knows where those friendships will end up?
Jessica Eastman Stewart, '05 Bay Area, is the managing director at Great Oakland Public Schools. She lives in Oakland with her husband Jonathon and two superstar cats. She spends her weekends watching Auburn football, turning fruits and veggies into homemade jam or pickles, reading personal finance blogs, and walking around Lake Merritt with friends.