Teach for America sets career path for Simpson Alum

by Rachel Peterson, perspectives editor

When Kayla Hamilton graduated from Simpson College in 2010 with a triple major in international business, German and religion, she had no desire to be an educator. Fast forward four years and she is in her third teaching job. She has Teach for America (TFA) to thank for introducing her to education.

TFA is an organization that places college graduates in low-income communities for a minimum of two years to expand educational opportunities. In the Midwest, teachers are placed in cities such as Kansas City, Chicago and St. Louis.

In the 2013-14 school year, TFA placed 11,000 corps members in low-income and rural schools, according to the TFA website.

After Hamilton graduated from Simpson, she worked for AmeriCorps Vista. She worked for an organization that dealt with special needs kids.

“It dawned on me that I wanted to work with kids. It took several more months for me to realize that teaching could be a viable option,” she said.

Hamilton did not want to go to graduate school for two years to get her masters and then attempt teaching. Instead, she joined TFA and got her masters while she taught. Hamilton said the “trial by fire” option that TFA presented to try teaching was an attractive characteristic of the organization.

She was placed in Kansas City as a second grade teacher in a charter school. After six weeks of teaching, she was laid off due to poor management of the school.

After a month of observing other classrooms, Hamilton was hired by the Kansas City public school system teaching 4th grade.

“It was tough. It’s hard on kids to not have the consistency. It was hard on them to see their teacher leave halfway through the year. I came into a class that had lost faith in the system,” she said.

Hamilton’s second year of TFA was spent in the same school, but as a third grade teacher.

“I look back on last year and I have so much joy. It was amazing, and my kids did so well. We were an unaccredited school district in Missouri now they are provisionally accredited. My kids did so well on their state tests last year,” she said.

Hamilton completed her two-year commitment with TFA and graduated with her Master’s degree last year.

“I knew I wasn’t ready to stop teaching. I felt like I still had more to offer,” she said.

Life moved her back to Des Moines where she is currently a fifth grade teacher in the suburbs.

Hamilton eventually wants to become someone who influences decisions and policies about education.

“I want to have an influence that really benefits the kids who are marginalized. My different experiences will give me a better picture of where the problems are,” she said.

Her time spent in Kansas City especially opened her eyes to the problems educators face.

“There were lots and lots of times when I was in Kansas City where I watched my principal’s hands be tied between what the district wanted her and the teachers to be doing and what the state wanted us to be doing,” she said. “I saw the system, and I knew it could be more efficient than what I currently is.”

Hamilton said without TFA, she never would have gotten into the classroom.

“It gave me an opportunity to connect with teaching so directly and so quickly,” she said. “TFA does provide a lot of support to its teachers. I could go in with confidence knowing that I had people who would help. “

Though Hamilton had a less than ideal first year with TFA, she chalks it up as part of her journey that has gotten her to where she is today.

“There are pros and cons. If you want to get involved, you have to know going in that it’s not going to be perfect,” she said.