As teachers, corps members make a profound impact on students' lives--while drawing on a level of grit they may not even know they have.
January 21, 2020
There are countless benefits to becoming a Teach For America corps member. It is an opportunity to make a tangible impact in education, in communities around the country, and in the future of today’s youth. It is also the opportunity to experience great personal growth by building skills and gaining perspective.
Our corps members are talented individuals who enter the classroom determined to be the most impactful leaders they can be. Their foundational grit — a combination of perseverance and passion — is essential to their success, and their experience in Teach For America challenges them to push themselves further.
You Are the CEO of Your Classroom
As a corps member, you carry the responsibility of running every aspect of your classroom. This requires spending time inside and outside of the classroom planning for lessons, grading test and papers, communicating with parents, and so much else. On top of that, you may also have to juggle your own education, pursuing master’s degree coursework for your teaching certification. As a novice educator, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by a seemingly endless task list involving your students, your school staff, and the community at large. This is where your grit and determination come into play.
As a first-year corps member, Eric Smith (Indianapolis ‘17) experienced numerous challenges during his first semester. A few months into the school year, several teachers left their jobs, leaving just four content teachers, an electives team, and one principal. Then, he learned that his school would be merging with a nearby elementary school. These unexpected changes required teachers to band together and pool their resources. Eric’s commitment to his students and fellow teachers strengthened his determination to make that school year the best and most productive year yet.
Learning on the Job Provides Valuable Experience
Only 20 percent of corps members have plans to teach before applying to Teach For America. This means a majority of corps members join without firsthand experience as full-time educators. During summer training, incoming corps members learn the fundamentals of teaching and gain firsthand experience teaching a summer school class. While this training is intense, it provides a strong foundation for modeling grit for students. As many corps members attest, once they get to know their students, this fuels their desire to see those students succeed and strengthens their determination to keep pushing forward.
Jenn Dewhirst (Houston ‘94) is a shining example of the grit needed to persevere despite the influx of new and challenging obligations. By winter break of her first year, she was feeling exhausted due to the realities of being a first-year teacher. Her supervisor recommended she quit, but Jenn knew that giving up on her students wasn’t an option, so she worked her tail off when she got back. Jenn returned to her classroom more motivated than ever, and her determination paid off. In the end, 100 percent of her students passed their end-of-the-year state test.
Learning From Mistakes
There will always be factors outside of your control that you must manage in addition to teaching.
Things won’t always go as planned. The lesson that you spent hours perfecting may not go the way you hoped. Your classroom management strategies may backfire. Teaching is a practice that takes time to develop. Every day will provide you with an opportunity to try new things, learn from mistakes, and get a little bit better. This constant learning is what helps deepen your grit — the ability to see growth opportunities in every setback.
While this may sound intimidating, with determination you will come out of the program stronger than ever before. You will strengthen your time management skills by learning how to juggle school priorities with your personal life while having a positive influence on your community.
Persevering for Your Students
Students are at the heart of your work as a corps member. You’ll have an opportunity to build deep relationships with your students and coach them to persevere as they learn new things.
Many corps members find that their students are the reason they stay motivated when challenges arise. The impact their students have on them is profound. And it’s the reason many will constantly push themselves to do more.
As Benjamin V. Cervantes (Los Angeles ‘18), a resource specialist at Huntington Park High School, got to know and care for his students, he discovered some of them were homeless.
“There are students on my case load that are homeless and don’t know where they are going to go home to at the end of the day,” Benjamin says. “I make sure they’re the first person that gets breakfast, that they’re able to take a snack home, and make sure that they feel supported. To be a TFA teacher means that you are there every single day to support your students, regardless of how hard the job can be. You are there to be a constant for your students.”
Advocating for students can require a great deal of time and, therefore, persistence.
Developing your grit greatly improves your ability to persevere through obstacles and be successful in the classroom and beyond. Teach For America strengthens your grit and determination by challenging you to take charge of a classroom, your students, and your personal journey. Take the first step by applying to Teach For America today.
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