by Erica Marks
“One day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”
Before joining the corps, the mission statement (above) was all I knew of Teach for America. Did I want to help? Sure. Did it seem easy? More or less. In the end, looking back on two strenuous, but fulfilling years, I feel like I did the mission some justice.
As an undergraduate business major at Pitt, I truthfully had no idea what I was going to do and where I was going to end up. I was applying for jobs that appealed to my major, but that didn’t appeal to me. It was during this time of soul-searching, that I came across an opportunity that I knew nothing about, but seemed like it may give my career more purpose. After a lengthy, three-part application process, I made the cut.
My assignment: Up and move to Charlotte (you rank your cities, I was thrilled about Charlotte, not the move) and take on an entire class of 1st graders with zero experience.
My preparation: Make a pit stop in Atlanta for a 5 week, intensive, hands on boot camp, teaching summer school. The end goal of which was to get my group of students into the glory land of 6th grade (very happy to report that they made it).
My experience: From day one in the classroom, I knew I had underestimated my role. To start, 20 six-years olds depended on ME to make them ready-minded 2nd graders, while simultaneously teaching them everything about everything. Did I accomplish this? According to the data, yes. Was it simple? By no means. Did I fall in love with all 20 of these little rascals? 18 (not all of them were angels). It is now crystal clear to me why teachers have a summer vacation.
My motivation: The moments when the missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place; when Ke’Shaun stopped writing his letters backwards (even the word pizza was incomprehensible), when Raeven told me she wanted to be an author (that girl loved telling tales), when Maia became a math whiz and champion of Addition Wars (the kids preferred this game to recess, she was the fastest adder in the class!) and when Sade’s mom told me she wanted to be a teacher just like me.
My aftermath: In hindsight, all jokes aside, Teach for America has been my single-most meaningful experience to date. Do I recommend it? Yes, to those who want to be the change that shapes the minds of our youth and the force that strengthens our education system.