Corps member Cristina Nunez-Ballesteros' passion for working directly with youth, adults, schools, and systems is rooted in her childhood experience.
July 2, 2019
Every summer, Teach For America welcomes our new corps members to Chicago Summer Training: a rigorous, hands-on experience that combines intensive training with immersive teaching practice and coaching. This year, a staff member and a 2019 corps member will be blogging about their on-the-ground experiences! This second post comes from Cristina Nunez-Ballesteros, a 2019 corps member and Illinois native who will be teaching early childhood education. (Catch up on the first post, from staff member Adam Mogilevsky.)
After two weeks at summer training, this Monday I will enter the classroom. The knots I felt in my stomach walking in on the first day have untied and re-tied themselves a million times as I get ready for my students. Four years ago, I started undergrad determined to be a better person. I wanted to forge a new chapter of my life rooted in justice, change, and action. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to be someone younger me could look up to and admire. I wanted to always be able to imagine this version of myself, and how she would criticize and demand more from me.
As I went through college, I kept myself centered with one phrase: “Lift as we climb.” Though many professors encouraged me to pursue academia, I knew I wanted to join Teach For America. A bachelor's degree is an immense privilege with immense access to resources and learning. How could I keep pushing upwards and leave my surroundings behind? How could I allow myself to pursue another degree without taking a moment to actually enact change?
“I am here in the present, working directly with youth, adults, schools, and systems because change can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Most importantly, if I went down that path, would 8-year-old me be proud or angry? Short answer: She would definitely be angry. She'd wonder how a low-income Brown girl from the middle of Illinois could ever forget where she came from and what she wanted for her communities. And she'd wonder how I could have forgotten what schools looked like in Kankakee versus schools in Bradley, and the way a zip code changed her siblings’ access to opportunities.
Teach For America is an organization that never lets me forget. I am one of six people of color working in Early Childhood Education this year. Throughout training we’ve explored how few teachers of color there are in Chicago, and how to create confident students and equitable classrooms. I am here in the present, working directly with youth, adults, schools, and systems because change can’t wait for tomorrow. These past two weeks have taught me there is always something we can do right now to genuinely contribute to change. On Monday we start teaching predominantly Latinx children. I am here for them, for us, and will work to make my younger self proud.