October 27, 2017
Our 2017 corps members came from 10 different states to work as teachers in 16 schools throughout St. Louis and Normandy. Three of our 2017 corps members, Ron Lewis, Hannah Whittaker, and Lex Kosieradzki reflect on their choice to join Teach For America and the connections they are making with the St. Louis Community.
Why did you decide to apply for TFA?
Ron: I decided to apply for TFA because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. As an African-American male, I am deeply aware of the impact that I can have in my students’ lives. I never had a teacher that looked like me growing up and I’ve always imagined how differently my identity would have developed if I had someone at my school who looked like me that I could look up to.
Hannah: I applied to TFA because of the inequity I personally witnessed between schools in St. Louis County and schools in St. Louis City. I was working at a county school at the time I applied and realized that most of the students didn’t understand the impact that poverty and inequity were having on kids nine miles away. I want to provide all students in St. Louis with the opportunity to access an equitable education.
Lex: Before TFA, I worked at Aspire ERES Academy, a charter school in East Oakland, California--first as an AmeriCorps member, and then as a one-on-one aide for a kindergarten student. My student's classroom teacher was a brilliant, caring, and unbelievably capable educator, and working there made me realize I wanted to be a teacher. I moved to St. Louis after my partner started law school here and I taught pre-K at a private preschool in the suburbs, which, at the time, is what I thought I wanted to do. It was a wonderful place to teach, and I learned a lot there, but I missed the shared sense of a larger mission; my desire to have that back, and get back into social justice work was a big reason I applied to TFA.
What about St. Louis specifically interested you?
Ron: I’m originally from Illinois and I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t too far from home. I also wanted to go to a state where it seemed education and educational justice are truly valued.
Hannah: I moved to St. Louis to work for a non-profit ministry before I even planned to apply to TFA. I fell in love with the city and I knew I wanted to stay. It also helps that I meet my husband here and we’ve made St. Louis home!
Lex: I already lived in St. Louis when I applied for TFA, having moved here from the Bay Area. If I have my way, I will stay here for the long term. The people are extremely friendly; there's a fun, weird, and vibrant DIY art scene and lots of great noise, punk, country, and metal music. The architecture is beautiful there is magnificent food everywhere.
How has being a corps member in St. Louis impacted you? How do you see it impacting our community?
Ron: I’ve learned a lot about myself as a man and who I want to be in the future. Certain things, like the aftermath of the Jason Stockley verdict, impact you in a different way. You no longer think about how things in the world affect you, my first instinct is to think about what my kids are feeling and how they are perceiving the things that happen in our country. It is up to us to us as educators to prepare our kids to address these injustices.
Hannah: It has been a humbling experience to see how much work goes into teaching and to see how my students and their parents work so hard, both at school and outside of school. It’s been eye opening to see parents be real about their struggles and give each other advice about how they can all give their kids more opportunities. I think continuing to build relationships with parents so we can work alongside one another in support of our kids and each other will have a large impact on the entire community.
Lex: Being a CM in St. Louis has changed my life in every meaningful aspect--in both good and occasionally tough ways. I have much less free time than I did before, and I wake up a little earlier than I'd like. My apathy about my own purpose in life, however, is pretty much gone--teachers know exactly what we're here for!
What are you most proud of so far this school year?
Ron: I’ve been able to maintain a good work life balance throughout the school year. Although the experience will always have its highs and lows, I’ve been able to reflect on how I deal with stress and find ways to deal with it.
Hannah: The thing I am most proud of is how my students have embraced each other and have created a culture that is inviting. They are always loving and they will include others in play, help each other out, and are quick to forgive each other.
Lex: I have finally been getting the hang of how to teach my math curriculum, and I'm starting to see some real improvements in my students' mathematical abilities.
What other organizations have you engaged with during your free time in St. Louis?
Ron: I am a member of the National Urban League Young Professionals.
Hannah: I am involved with the Journey Hanley Road Church.
Lex: I am relatively involved with the local contemporary art scene and once I settle into my teacher life a little bit more, I'd like to get more involved with the St. Louis chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.