When our family moved to D.C., I had trouble at first finding the childcare situation I wanted. A friend told me about a small charter pre-school that accepted two-year-olds and practiced full inclusion, educating children with special needs within the general classroom. I’d only considered charters in the abstract before, but I jumped at the chance to sign Alan up for the school’s admissions lottery. I was convinced that this school would offer my typically developing two-and-a-half-year-old a more individualized educational experience.
Alan won a spot, and I was delighted to find a deeplycommitted principal and well-trained staff members. And so I took my son to his first day of school, and at the door to his new classroom, I met…a Teach For America alumna.
Alan and Ms. Laura, his TFA alum teacher. Photo courtsey of Heather Harding.
I kind of knew this day was coming. I’d secretly feared it—and had certainly entertained the question philosophically: “Would you want your child taught by a TFA teacher?”
Ms. Laura was a third-year teacher who had found her way to this wonderful school. She seemed like a nice woman, but what if she was a terrible teacher? That would challenge my new job on TFA’s national staff. It would put into question my belief in the TFA model, and my own role as a TFA alum. If this Ms. Laura was bad, how could I continue to do the work that I’d moved to D.C. to do?
I tried to keep my job a secret that first week. But when the family questionnaire came home, I had to come clean. Ms. Laura’s smile seemed slightly bigger the next morning, and she said softly, “I noticed that you work at Teach For America. I’m an alum of TFA.” I smiled nervously; I didn’t want her to see the worry I felt—about her abilities and about my convictions.
As the year went on, I grew increasingly impressed with Ms. Laura. She was better than good—she was excellent. I came to realize that Ms. Laura, like many TFA corps members and alums, was born to teach.
Ms. Laura taught for a total of five years, and my family was lucky to have her help in raising Alan for the two-year cycle that was the school’s model. Now she serves as the managing director of TFA’s Early Childhood Initiative, and I feel just as lucky to have her as a colleague. She’s a natural advocate for early-childhood education, and a brilliant example of why TFA’s work in early childhood education (ECE) is so important.
Being an educator isn’t confined to classroom teaching. Ms. Laura will always be an early-childhood teacher, yet her current work is equally valuable as she advocates for more TFA corps members to follow in her footsteps, ensures that our ECE training is developmentally appropriate, and supports important growth in regions where ECE suffers from a lack of human resources. I’m so grateful for having had Ms. Laura as my child’s teacher. And I’m proud of the work she does now too.