A 2016 corps member explains why "place matters" and how joining one of TFA's rural regions made all the difference.
October 23, 2016
When I decided, after graduating from college in Washington, D.C., I would join Teach for America’s Eastern North Carolina (ENC) region, I was met with one of two reactions from well-meaning friends and relatives: 1) eyebrows-raised, side glances, and a “Wow, that’s going to be really hard"; or 2) the less subtle, “Why?” The experience is entirely different: my job is hard, but I love it, for so many reasons, including these 10:
1. The relationships
I’ve undoubtedly made some of my closest friends with fellow corps members in ENC, and the unique circumstances have allowed us to bypass the awkward getting-to-know-you stage of friendship and right to the “Are you home? I’m coming over” part of friendship. These relationships are essential to transitioning into a new region.
2. People really are nicer.
It’s not a stereotype. In ENC, newcomers are welcomed like family. In the grocery store line, at the gas station, at restaurants and bars and just walking down the street, people smile, wave, and start friendly conversations. This is an added layer of support transitioning from being a full-time college student to a full-time teacher and something I’m grateful for every day.
3. The kids
I’m not saying that urban teachers don’t fall head over heels in love with their students. But my students have been the kindest, funniest, and sweetest kids to teach and to learn from. I teach special education for first through third grades, and I truly have not had one dull moment. Though I still find it odd to be called ma’am, I think our students in ENC are the best around.
4. The cost of living
In Tarboro, North Carolina, I pay anywhere from one-fourth to one-fifth in rent of what my friends in D.C., NYC, and San Francisco pay. The lower cost of living in rural areas gives me freedom and financial independence—and the opportunity to save for the things that matter to me, like travel and graduate school.
I’ve never been the most outdoorsy girl. But ENC and rural regions across the South and Midwest are dazzling. Hiking, biking, kayaking, and running are plentiful. Even just driving and looking out over the fields and tall pines is beautiful.
6. Leadership opportunities
If leadership opportunities are important to you, consider a rural region. Corps members in ENC have so many opportunities to lead within their communities, and TFA alumni have many school and community leadership positions here.
7. The staff
Our staff here is AMAZING. They are committed to the region, but also committed to corps members.
8. The food
North Carolina barbecue is a staple. So are chicken and biscuits. Have you ever tried pigs’ ears? You should.
9. You get tougher.
Maybe this is just me—but when my car broke down on the side of a country road, with no Uber around for dozens of miles, I handled it. Bugs of every variety no longer freak me out, and moving somewhere brand new, by myself, without my family or friends, has proved to me that I really can do anything.
10. It’s a brand-new experience.
TFA–ENC has given me more than I ever would have dreamed, and I have not once regretted my decision. Place matters. Success is not a linear path, and being here, and in the classroom, has inspired a lifetime of work for educational equity. The disparities in Eastern North Carolina mirror that of the nation, but education equity can and will be achieved in my lifetime. I’m excited to be a part of it.