Chelsea Bentley (Appalachia '15) discusses her path to teaching and commitment to student growth
May 2, 2017
Pike County, Kentucky
I’m a native of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s a lot about my identity and my story that has a strong correlation to why I was led to teaching. My parents divorced when I was young and my family was low-income. I was the student who had to fight my way through, stay after school for tutoring, and study hard. I knew that if I was to go to college, it would be due to my academic achievements and without financial support from my family. Despite my challenges at home, my teachers always recognized my accomplishments and motivation. They never lowered their expectations of me because I didn’t have a cookie-cutter life. That’s why teaching is so important to me, because I know there are students with stories that run parallel to mine. There are students that come into my classroom every day and crave that same unwavering belief that success is possible no matter the situation. That’s my favorite part about being a teacher—seeing the hope in their eyes when someone, maybe for the first time, tells them they can go to college, that they can be successful. Not despite their situation, but because of their resilience and choice to travel forward anyway.
I’ve always known that I wanted to work with children, but TFA was God-sent. As a non-traditional student, married at 19 while a sophomore in college, I had to begin working right after graduation to support my husband through the rest of his schooling. At a career fair I spotted a TFA booth and realized that it was exactly what I was looking for. I now know that teaching—in whatever capacity—is probably the only thing that will ever give me fulfillment. I’ve never been one to be complacent in doing just enough to get by—the extra mile is what I live for – and TFA is just that.
In the classroom
In one class this year, my students started with their diagnostic data mastery average at 55%; by the end of the first semester the average had risen to 77%.I hold students to high standards and work current events into classes to further engage them, but the biggest shift in scores came from incorporating Kagan Structures to increase cooperative learning. Additionally, students have data folders in which they track each of their exams; by recording the numerical grade, graphing it so they can see their growth form, and reflecting on what external factors may have made a difference in their grade so they can plan accordingly in the future.
In the community
During my first year in the classroom I was an assistant coach for the volleyball and academic team, and this year I am the head coach for the academic team. I helped establish a community service project with my team and I require students to engage in service projects each month during the school year. My students have taken on leadership roles throughout the school and community, and I am proud to have been a part of helping them recognize their potential.