Teach for America offers valuable experienceBy Walker Donaldson | 12/05/2011 11:10pm
An alarming crisis exists in public education today. American students fall short on testing in comparison to their international counterparts. Great disparity plagues school systems across the United States, bringing socioeconomic inequalities into the classroom. Graduation rates are falling, and the number of students completing college degrees, especially in Alabama, is terribly low.
Too often, concerned citizens place the blame for this kind of crisis on one specific group. Teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers are constant objects of criticism for their response, or lack thereof, to the problems that we as a nation are facing within our educational system. And while picking a scapegoat is easy, it is not necessarily ameliorative, nor is it fruitful. The urgency of the situation indicates that there is no time to play the blame game. Instead, we must take action.
Upon my arrival at UA in the fall of 2008, I was a political science major with aspirations of going to law school and working in Washington, D.C. However, by my sophomore year, I was beginning to reconsider my postgraduate plans. I started to recognize that the life I was living as a college student was incongruous with the experiences of those outside of the campus. Poor and underperforming school systems, a regressive tax structure and a host of other problems face Alabamians, and I could not fathom why more was not being done to improve these situations.
Curious to gain more knowledge of the inequalities the state and nation were facing, as well as ways to address them, I began working with the nonprofit organization Teach for America in the spring of my sophomore year. In interacting with teachers, as well as TFA staff in Alabama, I was inspired by their commitment to real change, and felt like they were in a position to positively impact the Black Belt, a region that is consistently neglected.
Eager to find out how I could personally help the cause, I did more research on Teach for America and decided it was something I would like to do after graduation. After observing these teachers and their fire for teaching, the thought of being in a classroom appealed to me in ways it never had before. I knew that my love of learning, and the desire to share it, would help me become a teacher who could not only improve students’ classroom performance but also instill in them a drive to succeed.
In the fall of 2012, I will begin teaching secondary English in Colorado. While I am admittedly nervous about the prospect of standing in front of my students for the first time, I am also bursting with excitement. My students, whoever they may be and whatever background they may come from, will have my full and undivided attention as their educator. My greatest commitment in life will be to them, and I will do everything in my power to give them the best opportunity to succeed. Some might dismiss my optimism as the naïveté of an inexperienced college student, but I would beg to differ. When I accepted my offer to Teach for America, it was not only with the knowledge that there would be challenges involved, but also with the knowledge that I would have the necessary resources to harness my greatest potential as a teacher, and in turn help my students realize their own.
I look forward to learning from the veteran teachers who are also committed to the betterment of students and the educational system as a whole. I go in not as someone who is looking to build my resume or to delay my entry into “the real world,” but as someone who truly desires to be a student of the science and pedagogy of teaching, regardless of whether I choose to continue in that occupation for the entirety of my professional life. My time in the classroom will undoubtedly provide me with valuable skills applicable to any profession that I may choose, but no matter where I end up using them, it will always be to the end of reform. When I enter the classroom this fall, I will enter it as a member of a movement, and I will leave it the same way. I may not have single-handedly solved the problem of educational inequality, but I will be armed with the experience and knowledge necessary to be a leader in that movement, and that is invaluable.
Walker Donaldson is a senior majoring in political science and history.