Winding road leads to “Teaching for America”

Winding road leads to Teaching for America

by Nicole CleveringaCopy Editor

If you would have asked me four years ago what I’d be doing after graduating from college, I would have told you “law school” without hesitation. It’s amazing how much can change in such little time. Simpson has taken me on quite a journey!

I didn’t like my political science classes nearly as much as I anticipated and all of my well-laid plans of law school and a large paycheck were dashed.

By spring break of my junior year, I was getting a little worried as to what I was going to do with my new English major. The last thing I wanted to do was go home to incessant questioning.

A few days before spring break, I received an e-mail from the RLC advertising a few open spots for spring break trips. A mission trip wasn’t necessarily my ideal “break,” but it wasn’t home. Without knowing who was going or what I would even be doing, I responded to the e-mail, and a few days later I was on a journey to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

After a week of viewing the damage of Hurricane Katrina, making some amazing friends and gaining some valuable insight on life, I came back to campus revitalized.

I decided to take a chance on another mission trip, this time to Jamaica with people I barely knew, and again, had a wonderful experience.

When I returned from my summer jaunt to Jamaica, I realized that it was the happiest I had ever been. I wanted to do something like that for the rest of my life…but what?

After a little research, I applied to the Peace Corps and a program called Teach for America.

Everyone knows what the Peace Corps is–27 months in a foreign country teaching, implementing various programs and making better lives for people in various communities.

Teach for America is a little different. Those accepted are placed in an inner city or rural failing school in hopes of decreasing educational inequity. Placements range from inner city Los Angeles to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

After numerous rounds of interviewing for both positions, I found out I was accepted into the Peace Corps to teach English as a second language in Eastern Europe. The Teach for America process took a bit longer, but after great anticipation, I found out I was accepted as an elementary school teacher in Kansas City, Mo.

After some long talks with the family and a lot of thought, Teach for America was the decision.

No, I don’t have any education background and in fact, I’ve never taken an education course at Simpson, but nonetheless, I’m going to be a teacher!

I will, however, be doing many hours of observation in classrooms, taking the Praxis II Exam and going to Phoenix, Ariz., for five weeks to teach summer school.

Also, I’ll be expected to take Master’s Degree courses while I teach this fall. Talk about a rush!

The educational inequity on racial and economic lines in the United States is incredibly sad and far too often overlooked.

Learning about high school students receiving coloring assignments for math class may seem ludicrous, but it is happening in our nations’ schools.

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, 9-year-old students who grow up in low-income communities are three grade levels behind their peers who grow up in high-income communities. Those students who do grow up in low-income communities who do graduate will, on average, read and do math at the level of eighth graders in high-income communities.

The task of teaching in a “failing” school is daunting, but I’m very excited to motivate students to do well and change the inequity that has become acceptable.

And, although I don’t have an education degree, and at the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, I still feel as though I can make a difference.

So, I may not be making loads of money as I had planned when coming to school, but I know Teach for America will be an amazing experience. I am very proud to say this is something I want to do.

Who knows–maybe in two or three years, I’ll end up in law school or join the Peace Corps, but until then, Kansas City, here I come!