It’s days like Thursday, Oct. 23 that can really test your mettle as a teacher. I’m talking about the days when you squeeze a roll of vocab quizzes in your hand and wonder whether taking responsibility for the linguistic ability and literacy of more than 100 English Language Learners was the best idea four months after graduating college.
It’s days like Oct. 23 when you just scratch your head and wonder if it’s even possible to accomplish bullet point No. 3 of your goal: getting 100 percent of your students to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam and graduate to the ninth grade. It’s days like Oct. 23 when you catch yourself tapping your watch in frustration because the kid who had promised to come in for tutoring failed to show up for the third day in a row.
Yes, it’s days like that that have you thinking, “Do I really have the power to help eliminate educational inequality in this country? Do I really have the potential to effect positive change in the lives of my students?”
Personally, I chose to join Teach for America for many of the same reasons I decided to apply: to help abate educational inequality in the United States; to live among, learn from and work tirelessly for some of the most marginalized members of our society; and to utilize the knowledge and skills which I developed at the University in order to effect positive change both inside and outside the classroom. As nice as that all sounds, though, the romantic feeling of endless possibility you have as an applicant doesn’t go untested. It might be twisted and tugged, pulled at from all angles and bent into shapes you never imagined possible. At times, it may even lose its robustness.
Taking this into consideration, if you believe you are someone who thrives in the face of obstacles; if you have refused to allow the inevitable challenges of life become roadblocks to success; and if you truly believe that eliminating the achievement gap in this country is indeed possible, consider Teach For America.
If you’re considering becoming a teacher, the real questions that you should be asking yourself are, “Do I have the enthusiasm, the foresight and the drive to lead my students to where they need to go? Do I have the ability not only to persist in the face of challenges but to excel when facing them? Will I be able to sustain the intense energy necessary to provide meaningful learning experiences to my kids no matter what obstacle may arise?”
There will be obstacles, and I’ll admit it, the facts do look grim. More than 13 million children are growing up in poverty, half of whom will never graduate from high school. Those who do graduate will, on average, perform at an eighth-grade level. In addition, nine-year-olds growing up in low-income communities are already three grade levels behind their peers in high-income communities. The lack of resources, everyday obstacles facing your students and responsibility for their academic achievement can be quite overwhelming.
Although the road will no doubt will be full of challenges, not everyday is Oct. 23. It’s days like Oct. 22, when I saw the look on Israel’s face after he completed his first picture book with me in eighth grade English, that help me realize the positive impact I’m having on my students’ lives. It’s days like Oct. 24, when Roman told me that I was the first teacher ever to believe in him. It’s days like Sept. 28, when I was literally jumping for joy in my classroom because Armando received his first A on his unit test, that once again instilled in me the notion that all students can achieve if they really want to.
Through what will unfortunately but likely be a process of trial and error, you too can learn how to equip a room sensibly, make demands of students without oppressing them and enlist your students and their mentors towards the goal you envision for your classroom. So, if you find yourself wondering what you might do after graduation, I’d ask you to remember one simple truth: You came to the University so that you could leave more experienced and informed that when you came. What will you do with the new knowledge and experience you have acquired?
How about working relentlessly so that the gap between the promise of America and the reality of America can one day be closed for millions of children growing up in poverty. How about making a difference? How about teaching?
Andres Ramos is a University alum. He is teaching in Rio Grande Valley of Texas with Teach For America.