I knew I was exactly where I needed to be when Stephanie looked up at me after finishing her math exam and said, “I did it.”
I had challenged my students to grow two grade levels in math in one year – undoubtedly a significant feat that I knew would be difficult to attain. But for Stephanie, it wasn’t enough.
Even as a sixth-grader, her focus was on completing the same problems her cousins in high school were working on. Her passion was math, and she pushed me, her mother and her grandmother to set the bar even higher.
It was my first year of teaching special education students in Philadelphia as part of the Teach For America program, and Stephanie was one of the dozens of bright, young kids that I had the pleasure of working with each day.
My decision to apply to the national teaching program was not an easy one to make. I knew it would require long hours. I knew there would be physically and emotionally exhausting days. I knew teacher pay was low.
I’m glad I made the right decision. Teaching brings with it so many moments of satisfaction and joy, from seeing students like Stephanie push themselves toward greatness to hearing from an appreciative parent that you’ve inspired their student to attend college, apply for an internship or explore a particular career choice. There are few professions that offer the privilege of having such a positive impact on the lives of others.
That potential to affect the lives of kids is why I’m so proud to lead more than 350 Detroit teachers as the interim executive director of Teach For America in my hometown of Detroit. Our teachers work tirelessly in schools throughout the city to help build the academic foundations our students need to be successful. Our corps is a diverse and dynamic group of individuals, most of whom are recent college graduates that come from universities across the state and the country.
From my years in the classroom and as an advocate for students in Detroit, here is what I have learned: In cities across Michigan, we need passionate, talented leaders to help our kids achieve their highest potential. We need teachers with commitment and passion for justice – especially teachers of color, particularly black males. When students have professional role models, like teachers, they can relate to, they begin to think differently about their futures. In Detroit, you have the potential to impact the lives of your students and families and contribute to the continued revitalization of our city.
As you near graduation and consider a career or graduate school program, I challenge you to consider one more option: teaching.
Whether your point of entry is a traditional school of education or an alternative pathway like Teach
For America, this country needs people that are innovative, committed, and willing to inspire the next generation of leaders.
For more information on applying to Teach For America, visit teachforamerica.org. The next application deadline is Feb. 20.
Tiffany Williams is the interim executive director of Teach For America – Detroit. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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