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December 2021 Classroom Update

December 15, 2021

Shivpriya Sridhar, 2020 Corps Member

Valor Flagship Academy

7th Grade English Language Arts 

As an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill I was determined to channel all my academic, professional, and research endeavors into prison advocacy. My experiences in legal defense and prison healthcare research affirmed where I needed to invest my time and talents. During the fall of my senior year, I participated in a divinity course at the Women's Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina. This course exposed me to the limitless potential that is possible when students have the right resources and more importantly, the right teacher. My professor constantly inspired us to grow not just as students, but as integrated people. I realized that I wanted to be the kind of teacher she was- one who could elevate students' academic potential while challenging them to be socially and emotionally connected to each other. Following this awakening, I connected with a Teach For America recruiter on my campus. My recruiter helped me realize how my passion for relational and trauma-informed practices in incarcerated communities was inviting me to a calling in education.

During my first year as an educator, I taught exclusively on zoom which was challenging; however, my Teach For America coach provided me with the motivation, encouragement, and guidance I needed to endure a year of uncertainty. She assured me that I could have the classroom culture that I desperately desired, even in a virtual environment. My coach supported me in developing a virtual learning culture that embodied my core values of deep connection, humor, and joy. Now in my second year of teaching, I have grown more confident in my content area of English Language Arts (ELA) and my teaching methods. I am also more passionate about data-driven instruction. I continuously seek new ways to introduce class with feedback from the previous day and I adjust my lesson plans when I identify that my students need more practice. My goal is to teach my students how to interpret lessons in a way that transcends into their everyday lives.  

Because my first-year teaching was during the pandemic, this year I have noticed stark gaps in students' retention of textual analysis and writing. My current 7th grade ELA students have not had in-person reading/writing instruction since 5th grade! In addition to learning loss, the effects of the pandemic have exacerbated my students' social and emotional challenges. Although it has been difficult coping through their mental health concerns while meeting their learning needs, my school does an incredible job holding space through mindfulness practices, reflection work, and check-ins to support students, which helps me as well. I am constantly inspired by the ways my students practice emotional wellbeing by courageously volunteering to share their adversities and ask their peers for support in facilitated practices like circle.

My humorous interactions with students give me so much hope in our collective potential for joy-filled resilience. It was so hard to notice a smile on my students’ faces in distance learning, so to know that we have the potential to mutually encourage and uplift one another face to face every single day in ways big and small is my why this year.

I am so grateful for the calling Teach For America has enabled me to know, love, and fulfill through their tremendous support.

Shivpriya Sridhar 2

Sierra Cook, 2020 Corps Member

Dalewood Middle Chattanooga

7th Grade Science

I decided to join Teach For America because I saw my younger self in a lot of the students we serve. I came from a single-parent, lower-income home, and it helped me understand the value of strong, meaningful connections with people. I found those meaningful connections mostly with my peers and teachers. My teachers inspired me to go into education to teach not just science, but also the essential social and emotional skills that all students need to be successful and content. The most valuable piece of advice I have gained as an educator is in order to take care of my students, I first need to take care of myself. As a result, I try every day to find a healthy balance between my work and home life.

When it comes to learning, my academic aspirations for my students this year are for all students to show growth in science compared to last year. My social and emotional aspirations for my students are for them to find comfort and confidence in themselves and with their peers both within and beyond the classroom. I am most proud of my student, Justaysia, who has struggled with anxiety, specifically around testing and classwork. Through one-on-one discussions, trust building, and allowing her to choose her own seat in class, she is now able to complete her classwork every day and succeeds on tests even when she is nervous.

The most challenging thing for me this year has been maintaining resiliency. As a second-year teacher, I have only experienced education in a pandemic setting, and while COVID-19 restrictions are lessening in my district, the educational and social impacts on students are still very much present. Because of this, I focus more on modeling and discussing positive social interactions and vulnerability, while still pushing my students to attain academic excellence in the classroom. While this experience is emotionally taxing, it is also extremely rewarding. I overcome the struggles of teaching in a pandemic by leaning on my community and finding time to be present with myself.

The pandemic has caused my students to suffer in their social and emotional development, and some of them have lost family members due to COVID-19. Families of my students have struggled with safe and equitable employment as well as lasting health issues following COVID-19 illness. My students also need winter clothes, their families need food, and many could benefit from gifts or gift cards to help fill financial voids during the holiday season.

Through such a challenging time, my students give me hope. They are so resilient and willing to try relentlessly. My students mean the world to me, and while this work can be challenging, it is so worthwhile to build and maintain relationships with them.

Sierra Cook 2