We are excited to announce that our Alumni Guest Post series is back for the 2012-2013 academic year!
First up: Will Brown ’11 will be sharing his experiences as a Physics teacher with Teach For America!
When I look back at my four years at Holy Cross, many things stand out to me: long hours in class and science labs, long hours studying in Dinand, long hours working at Kimball, and long weekend nights with friends. I enjoyed all of those things, but the one aspect of Holy Cross that truly became a part of me was the idea of being “Men and Women for (and with) Others.” I took advantage of every opportunity I had to serve alongside the marginalized and oppressed. I was one of those people who fell in love with the spring break immersion program. I went to New Orleans my freshman year because I wanted to help others. I quickly learned, however, that the beauty of a life of service is not what you can do for others, but what you can do together. The individuals that I met, both from Holy Cross and the local communities, convinced me to broaden my perspective and go out into the world.
Fast forward a few years, and I am now a second-year Teach for America corps member serving as a physics teacher San Benito High School in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the area of land alongside the Mexican border. As someone who was a biology major in the health professions program, I often get asked, “Why Teach for America? Why not go to med school?” Medical school is still my target destination, but I did not feel ready at that time to jump in. Instead, I opted for a short break from school and settled on joining one of the many service organizations that are available (Peace Corps, JVC, Americorps, etc.). Teach for America recruits high-performing college graduates with strong leadership qualities to teach in high-needs schools throughout the country. We go through an alternative teacher certification program and undertake continuous professional development throughout our two-year commitment. This makes it an excellent option for those individuals (like me) who realized very late that they have a passion for teaching, and also those individuals who would like a strong support system as they begin their teaching careers. Although it is not faith-based like the immersion trips, TFA appealed to me because it allowed me to work daily with students who have ambitious hopes and dreams for their futures, but who have also been written off by many as incapable of reaching those goals or, worse, not worth the effort.
The past year and a half has been a constant challenge. The old joke that “those who can’t do, teach” has certainly been proven false. I have worked harder during the past year and a half than I ever did before. My school day runs from 7:45 to 4:16, and then I stay at school most afternoons grading, preparing for future lessons, or organizing extracurricular activities. During my first year I taught three 90-minute chemistry classes and one remedial class for students who needed to pass the state exam. This year I am teaching physics. I find myself constantly relearning things I have forgotten since college. Most nights I am exhausted, and just like at Holy Cross I cannot wait for each weekend to come around so I can relax a bit. I love taking the time to go out to my students’ football games (yes, it really is like Friday Night Lights) or volleyball games and see them excel in something that they love. It is also a fun and easy opportunity to meet students’ parents and influencers.
All of the time and effort is worth it, though, when you see the fruits of you and your students’ shared labor: having Juan look up at you from a problem set and say he finally understands; seeing Mel’s face light up in wonder and amazement when a science experiment works like magic; or seeing a student who has failed multiple times in the past finally rise up and succeed. Those simple, joyous moments remind me why I chose teaching, why I chose Teach for America.
If you are interested in applying to Teach for America, make sure to get in touch with one of the recruiters from the Boston office. TFA works in 46 different rural and urban regions throughout the country from Boston to Hawaii and everywhere in-between. Check out the website to see detailed information about each of the regions. You can make yourself a more attractive applicant by taking on leadership positions on campus and developing your organizational skills, as these are two of the organization’s focal points when looking at applicants. Also, speak to people who are currently teaching in the public school system: there are many things I was unaware of that happen behind-the-scenes. There is a lot more to school than just teaching classes.
I want to leave you with my greatest moment in the classroom so far. One of
my students from last year, Myriah, had not passed the state science exam since she was in 8th grade. As a senior, she needed to pass that test to graduate. She was in two science classes with me, for a total of 135 minutes each day, all year long. Myriah had her confidence beaten down, but we knew that she could do it. One month before graduation, on her last chance, she finally succeeded in passing the science exam. She was going to walk across the stage and graduate with her class! I remember many things about that night: My mom and sister were at a Brad Paisley concert, and Johan Santana threw the Mets first no-hitter, but I will always remember the ear-to-ear smile on Myriah’s face as she lined up to walk across the stage. Tears welled up in my eyes as a student sitting near me said, “I didn’t think Myriah was going to graduate.” The tears began to run as I responded, “Well, she did.” In that moment, I knew that I was where I needed to be. I knew that joining Teach for America was the right choice for me.
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Learn more about Teach For America here.