Carrying Education and Equity Beyond the Classroom
A passion for educational equity—along with a desire to serve her country—led Hera McLeod to Teach For America.
February 13, 2020
Hera McLeod (Los Angeles ‘03) knew she wanted to serve her country, so it was never a question of if, but how and through which program. This desire is what led Hera to find TFA and enter into the classroom.
“I considered several options for service, but settled on TFA because I am passionate about education equity. I identify as a black woman and I also wanted my students to have the experience of having a black teacher. I didn’t have my first black teacher until I was a junior in college, studying in South Africa. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I would learn as much from my students as they would learn from me,” Hera says.
The learnings Hera gained from her students and teaching experience continue to provide power and tactics for her to call upon. Now, she is a member of the TFA Washington Collective Board and works as a principal engineering manager at Microsoft. From finding courage to enter any room with strength, to determining how to support the learning of coworkers, Hera uses learnings from the classroom to support her career.
“The lessons I learned as a teacher have been critical to the success I’ve had in my career. There is no tougher audience than a classroom full of students, especially ones who have been let down by adults their entire lives. My students prepared me to walk into any room with my head held high, ready to face the harshest of critics. I often find myself relying on the fundamentals I learned in TFA to explain concepts in the workplace. As an engineering manager, I am thankful that I have learned how to effectively communicate with people from all different backgrounds.”
Still, there are glass ceilings in place that need to be broken through, and Hera has found herself up against many of these. As a black woman working in not only tech, but an engineering field, Hera has had to be cognizant of being tokenized and making it clear that there are many highly capable black people that have not had the opportunities or privilege to enter these spaces.
“I want other TFA alumni to feel that they’re a part of a community, a movement of educators, passionate about education equity.”
Within this support, Hera finds herself focusing specifically on educators of color currently in the classroom. She knows from personal experience how important a role this is and understands the imperative role that support plays.
“I will never forget my last day as a teacher. I was watching my students on the playground. One of my students, a nine-year-old named Jesus, came to sit next to me on a bench. I looped with my students, so Jesus was in my class for two years. After a few minutes of silence, which was highly unusual for Jesus, he asked, 'Ms. McLeod, who is coming next?' Before me, my students had three different teachers in the first three months of school," Hera says.
"Jesus’ question haunted me for a while afterward. I knew I couldn’t be his teacher forever, but I wanted to continue supporting children and the organization that made me his teacher to begin with—Teach for America. It is hard for teachers of color, specifically, to receive the support they need in the classroom. Volunteering on the TFA WA Collective Board is my way of offering support to those still in the classroom and engaging other alumni of color to continue the work that brought us to TFA to begin with," Hera says.
"To those of you still in the classroom, or thinking of joining TFA—you are the teacher who is next.”
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