Learning by teaching

Teach for America yields lessons for students and teachers alike.

By Katie Smith

[04.21.04] — Almost two years ago, I was starting my senior year of college, unsure of what I wanted to do after graduation and nervous about entering the “real world.”

I had heard about Teach for America as a sophomore but wondered if I had what it would take to complete the two-year commitment.

As the deadline for application approached, I received an email announcing an informational meeting for those interested in the program.

Having nothing to lose, I went to the meeting and fell in the love with Teach for America.

From the first day I stepped into my classroom and met Montrell, Bo’Neka and the other 120 students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching, I knew I was in for an interesting ride.

Together, we’ve struggled through problems of violence in the school, the low expectations of the students and some of their teachers, and the demands placed on us by the standardized tests to which we have become slaves.

In my English classes, we have analyzed the literary works of many talented artists from Shakespeare to Kanye West, become experts at identifying sentence fragments and run-ons, and begun to learn more about each other and how our lives have shaped who we are.

Now, having almost finished the first year of my Teach for America commitment, I look back incredulously on the last 10 months. I am amazed at how my life has changed due to this experience.

Coming into Teach for America, my only desire was to make a difference in the lives of students who lacked the opportunity to receive a quality education.

Having reached the halfway point, I fear that I may have gained more from the experience than my students have.

As I head back into my classroom next fall, I will enter with one year’s experience under my belt and hope to be able to further satisfy the academic needs of my students.

Perhaps then I can give back to them what they have given to me — the incredibly satisfying feeling of having completed something that once seemed dauntingly impossible.

Katie Smith is a Teach for America core member sponsored by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation who teaches English at Southeast Halifax High School in Halifax, N.C. She grew up in Bloomington, Ill., and majored in psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After completing her commitment to Teach for America, she plans to return to Illinois to pursue a master’s degree in Social Work.

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