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An Incoming Corps Member Aspires to Empower Students

As Emily Callahan—currently a college senior—looks ahead to her first year in the corps, she reflects on a third grade math teacher whose passion and dedication for teaching continue to inspire her. 

April 30, 2021

Earlier this week I logged onto my laptop and took a math certification exam for elementary education. I’ve spent this past month studying and preparing for this exam, working to get the score I need to prove that I am qualified to teach elementary math. This whole process has made me pause and reflect on how far I’ve come. Who knew solving basic fraction problems would lead me to such deep self-reflection?

As I step back and remember my own personal journey with math, I want to write about a teacher who inspired me, and has set a model for the kind of teacher I hope to be.

When I was in the fourth grade, I began to struggle and fall behind in my math class. I vividly remember getting so frustrated during a test that I started crying. I left most of the answers to the questions blank. I felt so stuck. I had convinced myself that I would never be good at math—that I wasn’t smart enough or capable of success in this subject area.

I remember my teacher, Mrs. Barnes, who took time out of her busy schedule to help me with math after school. At the time, I was frustrated that I had to spend my afternoon practicing math problems. As I sat down at my desk and stared at the blank white sheet of paper in front of me, full of a daunting amount of math problems, I felt overwhelmed. I glanced around the empty, quiet classroom only to find Mrs. Barnes there sitting across from me, ready to help.

When I was upset and discouraged by my grades, Mrs. Barnes was quick to empower me and remind me what I was capable of achieving. Through going over practice problems together, Mrs. Barnes gave me the tools I needed to be successful and guided me when I felt lost. She was patient as we worked until I felt confident in my ability to correctly answer the problems on my own.

Without her support in elementary school, I don’t think I would’ve gone on to excel in math in middle and high school, or even become a statistics minor in college. Thanks to Mrs. Barnes, I learned to believe in myself.

“I cannot wait to give my all to my future students.”

Emily Callahan

Charlotte-Piedmont Triad Corps Member 2021

I am eager to start my career as an elementary educator through Teach For America because I  believe elementary school is so foundational to the rest of an individual’s education experience. I remember what it felt like to be lost in math, and if it hadn’t been for a teacher that deeply cared about my success, it’s hard to say what my math journey would have gone on to look like. Elementary school is so critical because if you don’t master the basics, the more advanced content seems even more unreachable. This is especially true with math.

Mrs. Barnes inspires me because of the way she encouraged me and took time to invest in me. She was passionate about her work, and dedicated to her students’ success. I want the same to be true of me. I cannot wait to give my all to my future students. I will tirelessly work to empower and encourage them, and to be the kind of teacher that Mrs. Barnes was for me.


Emily Callahan is currently a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill completing her bachelor of arts in public relations with a minor in statistics and analytics. She is passionate about writing and educational equity and loves watching Tar Heel basketball. Emily is thrilled to begin teaching elementary education in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a 2021 TFA corps member following her graduation!