Four new TFA teachers share their motivations

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The following is part of my monthly column, One Day and One Goal: Expanding opportunity in NC I invite you to follow along as I share classroom stories and explore critical issues facing education in our state. Go here for past columns.


Young professionals receive mixed messages about entering the field of education. Headlines ring out of the critical shortage of teachers, as significant numbers of experienced educators choose to retire or pursue careers outside the classroom.

However, the back-to-school season is here, and despite all the challenges ahead, there remains a teaching force that is resolutely preparing to welcome students back into the classroom. The Aspen Institute estimates that approximately 310,000 teachers enter the field each year, including members of the Teach For America corps that consist of recent college graduates and career-changing professionals.

So, what are the hopes that drive this new generation of teachers? Speaking with a few new additions to the Teach For America North Carolina (TFA NC) community entering the field this fall, several trends have emerged that I think are important to share.

Fueling the passion of new professionals

New teachers are certainly aware of the pressure they face amid the teacher shortage. That’s why I asked Ashley Weaver, Marissa Feliciano, Dillon Lay and Pamela Stanek about their approach to the 2022-2023 school year, and in particular their immediate goals as new professionals in the field. Overall, their responses reflected a desire to become excellent educators and create a comfortable learning environment for their students.

“[My] The main focus right now is to be a sponge,” said Ashley, a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and now a Guilford County educator. “I soak up all the information I can get from my coaches, seasoned teachers, books, YouTube, and program standards set by my district and state.”

“One of my short-term goals as a corps member is to be receptive to learning and feedback throughout my first year of teaching, said Dillon, who will be teaching at Ranson Middle. Charlotte school. “I want my students to feel comfortable telling me when they don’t understand something. Creating an environment of trust and reflection is very important to me for the upcoming school year.

Teach For America is designed to help new teachers achieve these professional goals by pairing them with local leadership coaches who support their development with one-on-one feedback and coaching aimed at helping faculty members improve their teaching profession and to grow as leaders.

Over the decades, Teach For America has learned that a key factor in recruiting and retaining the best, talented teachers — in addition to encouragement from friends and family beyond the classroom — is a support system. other education professionals so that teachers feel part of their community. This is why our coaches intentionally play a role in helping to build this professional network. It’s also why we provide teachers with support and tools to maintain their well-being and mental health and to lead rigorous, supportive and inclusive classes.

As part of this mentorship, teachers and coaches also set longer-term goals that, over time, teachers can pursue with other programming options through Teach For America and its partners. For new teachers like Pamela and Marissa, these long-term ambitions include pursuing advanced degrees and roles in school administration and curriculum development, which TFA NC is able to support.

Representation and empowerment

When they shared the news of their acceptance to Teach For America, the teachers I spoke to encountered a variety of responses. Dillon expressed his gratitude for “a strong support system at home in Kentucky and a strong support system from fellow TFA Corps members in North Carolina. ”

Ashley, who has received ‘nothing but love and support’, has always answered questions about choosing Teach For America as her entry point into the teaching profession, and Marissa was asked why she would move in Farmville, North Carolina, rather than teaching locally in New York. . Pamela’s family members asked if she felt prepared for the challenges of teaching in a high needs school.

The answers to these well-meaning questions of concern speak to the alignment these body members feel with Teach For America and its mission to ensure that one day all children will receive an equitable and excellent education.

“Making the decision to join Teach For America was easy,” says Marissa. From an early age, she became interested in pursuing a career in teaching, particularly to further the significant instruction she received as a student. Teach For America offered the opportunity to fulfill this commitment in a program that would support its values and long-term goals. “It wasn’t until I expressed my passion that my family and friends understood my decision to join TFA.”

For Pamela, teaching in a low-income community doesn’t hold her back. Instead, like Marissa, it fuels her passion.

“I was once that student,” Pamela says. “I decided to join the teaching profession through Teach For America because I want to help the indigenous children of the Navajo Nation. I grew up in a low-income home that had no running water or electricity. But against all Wait, I made it.”

Pamela’s drive to advocate for and empower Indigenous communities like hers is why she’s committed to developing her skills as an educator here in North Carolina. “The teaching happens every day, no matter how far I am from home,” she says. “I want to decrease the high school dropout rate and increase the college graduation rate for Aboriginal students. I joined TFA because one day I will help make this change.

Teaching inspires a personal passion similar to Ashley. “My own experience as a black student in the public school system made me realize how critical representation is,” says Ashley. “There were teachers who believed in stereotypes about me. However, I also had many teachers who believed in my abilities and now I am here today: a first generation student, HBCU graduate, member of Teach for America Corps and a proud teacher in my [alma mater] school district!”

How we welcome new teachers is important

In light of the uncertainty about the future of the profession, perhaps Ashley, Marissa, Dillon and Pamela sound like idealists. I would say, however, that their unique experiences, identities, and journeys in the classroom are the stuff of great teachers — even legacy-makers. I hope they keep the spark that brought them here and embrace every negative headline as they advocate daily for the well-being of their students and peers. I hope all North Carolina teachers share their determination to give back, make a difference, and continue to chart a positive course for their students.

Regardless of background, ambition or expectations, the first year of teaching means a steep learning curve for everyone. Our support and recognition of teachers’ efforts will help them maintain their stamina and achieve the intended impact of improving student achievement. This is why we must welcome any new educator as we would welcome a new student: by meeting him where he is, while keeping a clear vision of his potential.

Monique Perry Graves

Monique Perry-Graves is an award-winning leader, educator, speaker and author. As of June 2021, she has served as the first statewide Executive Director of Teach for America (TFA), North Carolina. In this role, Perry-Graves serves as the state’s chief executive in support of TFA’s mission to find, grow, and sustain a diverse network of leaders working together to end educational inequity and lead more of 50 TFA employees across the state. She is a proud graduate of North Carolina Central University where she earned her undergraduate degree in English. Perry-Graves continued her education by earning a master’s degree in strategic communications and leadership from Seton Hall University. She went on to earn a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Florida.

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