Two Future Teachers Are Ready to Make a Difference
December 13, 2023
Daniel Kim and Elaina Sherman will begin their teaching careers next August in as-yet-to-be-determined schools and districts south of Seattle. They come from different backgrounds and have had varied life experiences, but their commitment to serving the children and families they will work with is identical.
Daniel came to TFA five years after graduating from Purdue University in 2019 with a degree in computer science. Since graduating, he has worked in the tech industry in Seattle, currently for DoorDash, but previously for Google and Amazon.
He was born in South Korea and lived there until he was in fifth grade when his family moved to Los Angeles for two years. They moved again to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he attended middle and high school.
Finding Fulfilment in the Classroom
A few years into his tech career, Daniel longed to do more. “Working in the tech industry started giving me an empty feeling in terms of fulfillment," said Daniel. "I don’t feel satisfied with my work right now.” He had been pondering working in tech long enough to build a nest egg, allowing him to “soft-retire” and do something that felt more meaningful, even if it was less lucrative.
But as the empty feeling grew, he decided not to wait for that nest egg to grow. Daniel had been a math tutor throughout high school and college, so he knew teaching interested him.
Daniel learned about TFA through a friend. "The more I looked into it, the more I realized this is a calling that I really need to answer," he said. "So I said, screw saving money. I don't need retirement money to chase my passion, especially when I know this is going to be a great fit.”
Daniel knows he will be teaching middle school math and hopes he might be able to expand that job description to include high school students and computer science as well.
“I am super excited to put my all into teaching.”
Many of the students he worked with as a tutor struggled with math and came from families facing daunting challenges, so he expects the students he is likely to work with at TFA will have a lot in common with those he worked with earlier.
What excites Daniel most about his upcoming stint with TFA is the chance to teach full-time, which he said should enhance his effectiveness. As a tutor teaching was always a part-time, side gig.
“I am super excited to put my all into teaching,” he said. “I’m ready to teach all day, every day.”
Daniel finds the prospect of teaching a class of 20 to 30 students a bit intimidating because he generally tutored in small groups or one-on-one.
“I don't know what that scaling is going to look like, and I think that's something I'm just going to have to learn by diving in headfirst,” he said.
If he enjoys teaching as much as he expects to, Daniel could see making a longer-term commitment to the profession. Though he knows he could always return to the tech industry, his ardent hope is that he will keep teaching “for the foreseeable future.”
A Lifelong Connection With Kids
Elaina Sherman is a senior at Tulane University in New Orleans, double majoring in legal studies and business management, specializing in entrepreneurship. She originally hails from just north of San Francisco and is looking forward to returning to the West Coast with TFA.
Since she was very young, Elaina has felt a special affinity with children and has long wished to make working with children a centerpiece of her life. While in high school, she volunteered with Marin Youth Court, a program that offers an alternative to the juvenile justice system.
“That experience opened my eyes to the injustices happening in both the juvenile justice system and the education system,” she said. “As I started to approach the end of my college years here and began thinking more and more about my plans for post-graduation, I was really drawn back to these positions where I could work with and for children and be an advocate for children.”
Elaina knew people who had taught through TFA, so she began researching the organization and liked what she learned. “The role of teaching really resonated with me. And I felt strongly connected to the TFA mission of expanding opportunities for children,” she said.
“I understand it's a huge responsibility to be entrusted to educate the next generation. But I also see it as a really great privilege. So Teach For America just felt like the right next step for me.”
“I feel very confident in my abilities to connect with children, but you can also never really be too prepared for something like this.”
All Elaina knows thus far is that she will be teaching elementary school. “My number one goal is to guide my students towards a self-awareness of their own talents and their own capabilities,” she said. “Instilling that sort of confidence in students is the type of attribute that lasts far longer than after they leave my classroom or whoever else's classroom.”
What excites Elaina the most about the prospect of teaching is “getting into the classroom and building relationships with students, learning from my students, and growing those relationships.”
But she harbors no illusions that it will be an easy undertaking. “I feel very confident in my abilities to connect with children, but you can also never really be too prepared for something like this,” she said.
Elaina is most anxious about the prospect of feeling defeated as a teacher. "I can have conversations with previous TFA members and current teachers about what it's like to teach and what you can do to put your best foot forward. But obviously, I won't know what it's like until I'm in the classroom teaching, and I can only imagine how difficult it can be at times.”
Despite the understandable trepidation, Elaina is optimistic and enthused about getting started next summer.
“It's going to be an extremely fulfilling experience. The work that Teach for America is doing is really valuable. So I'm excited to be a part of it.”