New TFA Corps Member Views Teaching as a Pathway to Social Justice
Meet Cameron Stites-Stevens (Idaho ‘23).
Growing up in the Mojave Desert town of Newberry Springs, California, Cameron Stites-Stevens (Idaho ‘23) developed an early interest in working on social justice issues.
That took him across the country after high school, to Berea College in Kentucky, founded in the mid-19th century as the nation's first co-educational and racially integrated institution of higher education.
Berea offered Cameron two irresistible elements: Free tuition and a degree program in peace and social justice.
“It’s a really unique and wonderful place to go to school,” Cameron said.
After graduating, Cameron stayed in Berea and spent a year working in the college’s human resources department. While he found the work interesting, he still longed to work in a field more aligned with his major and his passion to make a difference.
Teaching seemed like a good fit, but lacking a degree in education, Cameron wasn’t sure how to break into the field. He started searching for answers, and that’s when he learned about Teach for America.
“I said OK, this lines up perfectly with what I want, so I applied.” Cameron wanted to be in a beautiful natural setting, and Idaho sounded like an ideal spot, so he listed it as his choice. He said he was unaware until he arrived that he was part of the California migration that has hit Idaho over the past several years.
Cameron is currently in his first year of his two-year TFA commitment, teaching eighth-grade English Language Arts at Syringa Middle School in Caldwell. Nearing the end of his first semester, he is finding it as rewarding and impactful as he hoped it would be.
He feels especially fulfilled working with a student population that comes predominantly from low-income backgrounds. He spent time in high school working summers as an environmental educator for the National Park Service, but most of the students he taught were, as he described, “super-wealthy kids who had little interest in long-term change.”
At Syringa, Cameron said, students don’t necessarily think in terms of social justice, but their life experiences point to the need for societal change.
Even early in his teaching career, Cameron has taken on a leadership role at his school. He was named the eighth-grade ELA representative on Syringa’s Site Council, a committee that makes decisions about school policies and organizes events.
He was nominated for the role by a colleague. At first, he worried that he was being pushed into something no one else wanted to do because he was “the new guy,” but his principal assured him it was an honor and an important role to play.
Cameron has found serving on the council to provide a fascinating perspective on the inner workings of a school. “It's been really interesting to see behind the scenes, what goes into all of the behaviors that we have to demonstrate throughout a day just to establish routines,” he said.
Cameron has also been fulfilled by his early exposure to teaching. “I love teaching. I really love teaching,” he said. It’s not hard for him to envision making it a career, though he isn’t yet sure what subject or grade level would be his sweet spot.
But so far, teaching has been everything he hoped it would be. “I come home every day and I feel satisfied, and I feel excited for the next day,” he said. “Don't get me wrong, we all have those days where it's like oh, God, I don't want to get out of bed and do this. But I had a lot more of those days in HR than I do as a teacher.”