This back to school season, American Eagle Outfitters is dedicating our time and effort to help underprivileged students across America get the resources and tools necessary to succeed. Associates from all over the company are coming together to donate school supplies to fill backpacks for Teach For America (TFA). One of our legal interns, Laura, has a special place in her heart for TFA. Before coming to AEO, she spent two years teaching 8th grade English and Social Studies in the Bronx for TFA. Read on to learn about her amazing experience and the time she shared with her students.
From your own personal experiences, explain how TFA helps underprivileged children learn.
“One Day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” Teach For America. TFA’s mission is to get to “One Day” and eliminate educational inequity. TFA recruits people who are willing to devote 100 percent of their time to teaching in low-income communities and achieving incredibly ambitious academic goals for their students. They seek candidates who have demonstrated leadership abilities, a passion about their mission and an ability to overcome all manner of obstacles to reach their goals. TFA teachers enter the classroom with a very specific goal in mind, and their progress to the goal is carefully tracked. TFA also provides many support systems for their teachers to make sure that they are successful, and allows them to serve their students in a uniquely individualized way. TFA always reassesses its teaching model to make sure that it is as effective as it can possibly be.
What were your reasons for pursuing Teach for America?
I believe in the mission, and I wanted to be challenged in the way that TFA promised to be.
What are some of the biggest goals that TFA tries to achieve?
TFA aims to change the trajectory of students’ lives. This involves raising their academic performance, helping them to imagine the future they want for themselves and providing them with the skills to get there. Academic goals are, at a minimum, that all students in a TFA classroom will improve their reading level by two years each year, and will achieve 80 percent mastery of all standards.
What subject/grade did you teach? How long did you teach?
I taught 8th grade English and Social Studies to a class that was 50 percent special education and 50 percent general education. I taught in a Title 1 school where 100 percent of the students qualified for low or reduced price lunch.
While teaching in the Bronx, what were some of the most important lessons you learned from your students?
I learned a lot of awesome lingo, and they were always quick to tell me how I should be dressing, but really I learned a lot about how to be strong in the face of terrible odds, and to remain hopeful when everything around you tells you to give up.
What do you think is the most important thing(s) that a student should take away from TFA?
The goal of a TFA teacher is to change the trajectory of their students. This involves giving them the skills to do better academically, socially and, ultimately, professionally. Students of a TFA teacher should at the end of the year have a picture of where they want to go in life, and more importantly, a belief that they can get there.
What resources do you feel are necessary for a student to succeed?
Students need strong role models, a lot of individualized attention that addresses their specific challenges and to be held to high expectations.
What resources do classrooms taught by TFA need the most?
TFA classrooms are in the neediest areas in the country. The students need school supplies, technology and the opportunity to have experiences that their more affluent peers have. After-school programs, summer camps and sports teams are just some of the valuable experiences that students in low-income areas never get to have.
What were some of the biggest obstacles/challenges that you faced as a teacher during your time with TFA?
Every single day was a challenge, and each challenge was different than the one before it. At first it was daunting to learn to keep 40 8th graders under control all day long. It was a daily challenge to help my students believe that doing well in school could change their lives when they had so few examples of that around them. It was a challenge to engage students and keep them entertained, and a challenge to meet so many kids at their own level.
Any memorable moments?
So many! Memorable moments, memorable people – a million irreplaceable memories. In teaching, in one day you may be madder than you have ever been, and then sadder and then happier. It pushes you to your limits! Every day is an adventure, and many of the moments are worth holding onto. Click here to read more about Laura’s memorable moments.
What can the public do to help TFA?
Support the teachers – they are doing the hardest job in the world. Donate money to support their classrooms. Donate time – meet their students, provide opportunities for students to get out of their communities and see more of the world. Invest your talents in the TFA communities – spend a day contributing your skills, giving legal advice, medical help or job training.
Are there any misinterpretations or misconceptions about TFA that you want to set straight?
There are a lot of misconceptions, and a lot of people who have conflicting ideas about achieving the same goals. What is important is that people continue to think about how to achieve educational equity in their city – no one person has all of the answers. TFA is highly scrutinized, and has been very successful, but our public school system has a lot of room for improvement, and there is plenty of space for debate.
To learn more about Teach For America and ways in which you can help, click here.