In celebration of Women's History Month, Teach For America alumni and corps members reflect on the amazing women in education who influenced how they lead in the classroom and beyond.
March 8, 2019
When Karen Fernandez (Miami-Dade ’17) learned she’d won Rookie Teacher of the Year for her elementary school, she was ecstatic. But what truly made it an inspiring full-circle moment is when she found out the woman who had motivated and empowered her as a student, Molly Winters Diallo, was selected as the county Teacher of the Year alongside her. "She taught me to believe in myself, to be empathetic," Karen says, "and to see the world from another person’s perspective. All these qualities are what I loved most about her as a teacher and are what now influence the way I teach my students."
Mentors and role models are critical to increasing the representation of women across all walks of education and leadership. As we celebrate Women's History Month, Teach For America alumni and corps members give thanks and honor the women educators in their life who served as beacons of hope encouragement, drive, and inspiration during pivotal times. Here, Karen and others share their stories, in their own words.
“She taught me to believe in myself, to be empathetic, and to see the world from another person’s perspective.”
As a high school student, my only dream was to go to college. However, like many first-generation students, I had no idea how to go about the college application process; I expected to attend a local university and commute from my parents’ home. However, my A.P. human geography and A.P. psychology teacher, Molly Winters Diallo, had bigger plans for me.
Mrs. Diallo introduced me to her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, and assisted me through countless scholarship applications so that my parents could afford me this incredible academic opportunity. At Mount Holyoke, I found a passion for the intersections of psychology and education. I wanted to close the achievement gap and pursue research in education that would make schools more equitable. This was where I was introduced to Teach for America and I decided to enter the education system through the classroom. I moved back to my hometown of Miami, and have since reconnected with Mrs. Diallo.
I was thrilled in January of 2018, my first year as an educator when I was selected as the Rookie Teacher of the Year for my elementary school. I was ecstatic when I later found out that Mrs. Diallo was selected as the winner of the Francisco R. Walker Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year award.
As her student, Mrs. Diallo made me feel empowered and worthy. She taught me to believe in myself, to be empathetic, and to see the world from another person’s perspective. All these qualities are what I loved most about her as a teacher and are what now influence the way I teach my students. From teacher and student to colleagues, I am honored to have a mentor and friend like Mrs. Molly Diallo.
“Never lose sight of our students as individuals. It’s an important lesson I’ve continued to carry.”
(New York ’09)
Principal, Boston Consulting Group
I never had the privilege of being a student in Tene Bloomfield’s class, but I was fortunate enough to be assigned her as my co-teacher during my second year as a corps member.
Tene was that perfect combination of “warm-strict.” She had high expectations, which she made very clear, but she also made sure that every student knew just how interested she was in them as a person, how much potential she saw in them, and how much she loved them. I’m grateful I was paired with her because she showed me how to hold onto the big goals we had for our students and broader educational equity, but simultaneously never lose sight of our students as individuals.
It’s an important lesson I’ve continued to carry, and I’m thankful to Mrs. Bloomfield for helping ingrain it in me.
“I consider our shared experience and sisterhood a unique opportunity to connect with my students and it drives my work as an assistant principal daily.”
(San Antonio ’13)
Assistant Principal at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy
My parents were born in Mexico and moved here when they were in middle and high school. My grandparents, like many Mexican immigrants, relocated their families in search of the American dream. When my maternal grandmother was in middle school, she was accepted to a college prep boarding school on a full scholarship in Mexico. She was packed and ready to enroll when her aunt convinced her parents that they were making the wrong decision in letting her leave their home in pursuit of an education.
My grandmother shared this story with me to ensure that I never let anyone stand in the way of my education and now I share it with my students. I am the assistant principal at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio, Texas. I was placed in San Antonio through Teach for America, where Principal Delia McLerran hired me to teach math. Mrs. McLerran noticed my potential as a teacher that day at the hiring fair and years later, she encouraged me to pursue a degree in school leadership because she believed in my potential as a future school leader.
Though I come from a different city, I understand many of my students’ familial experiences and have worn the same plaid skirt and cardigan that they wear. I kept my old yearbooks and posted my high school diploma in my classroom as a reminder to them that I understand what they are going through and also as a reminder to myself of their perspective. Now, it is placed in my office.
I consider our shared experience and sisterhood a unique opportunity to connect with my students and it drives my work as an assistant principal daily. I believe my most significant contribution in education is that I set an example my students can relate to. I am a graduate of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Dallas, a sister school to my placement school, as well as a college graduate and first-generation American citizen. My mission as a school leader is to help my students realize their potential by believing in them the way that my mentors believed in me because I believe that “empowered women empower women.”
“I will always appreciate Mrs. Dickerson for leading me to develop a passion for self-expression through writing.”
(Metro Atlanta ’17)
My International Baccalaureate (IB) teacher English teacher, Karyn Dickerson, stands out as an educator who led by example in the classroom. The most memorable thing about her class is that she had a genuine love for reading and hand-picked texts to which she had a deep personal connection. This enabled her to model an exciting and eager approach to literature studies that I had not yet seen in the 11th grade.
She inspired me to pursue an English literature degree by showing me just how fun and creative you can be while writing and reading through different lenses. I will always appreciate Mrs. Dickerson for leading me to develop a passion for self-expression through writing.