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This post marks National Engineer’s Week. Luqman Abdur-Rahman is a 2008 Metro Atlanta Corps Member and 2008 Amgen Fellow.
Five years ago, I was about to graduate from Georgia Tech with my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering. I had plenty of job offers with a bountiful financial outlook. But I still was not sold.
My Teach for America recruiter offered a new challenge and perspective. Of course, I viewed it through an engineer’s lens:
And so I did it. I signed up to teach kids in my hometown. It didn’t take long for me to realize what many naïve engineers realize when they hit the workforce in the real world: I was not ready for this.
First, numbers don’t lie, but they sure can be misleading. Students may earn the test scores to pass—but are they being set up for lifelong success?
Secondly, emotion is a necessity. My student is not a statistic. He is a human being with a soul. His struggle is mine and I have to love him for this to work.
Thirdly, “it is what it is” isn’t good enough. The most troublesome students are many times the smartest. Every child can learn, and when they fail, it’s because we’ve failed them.
Most importantly, I learned that real-world problems are never solved like the problems in my physics books:
Instead, my success and my students’ success will be determined by our resilience. It rests in my refusal to give up on them, and their refusal to give up on themselves.
At engineering school I wasn’t the smartest. But I would not be outworked. In my TFA experience, the same rings true. My students don’t learn because I have it all figured out. They learn because when I fall short, I notice and come back with a new strategy.
I have not found a “unified theory of student success,” but I still have faith in the process. When my assumptions or methods prove faulty, I erase the board and start over the next day. I do what any great engineer does.
I keep working. Harder. Smarter. Stronger.