My Teach For America Experience in Delaware
Guest blog by Megan Dempsey, Teach For America corps member.
This is the third in a three-part series related to Teach for America Delaware. This series was prompted by the recent establishment of TFA Delaware, a hub for corps members that is distinctly focused on The First State. Part one discussed the path to the establishment of the office. Part two was written by the founding director of Teach For America- Delaware.
I entered Teach for America, slightly idealistic and ready to take action. I was going to transform my classroom into a productive, welcoming, high-achieving place. After the intensive 6-week Institute that we all attended – teaching summer school throughout the city of Philadelphia -I felt somewhat intimidated with the scope of the task before me. I started work that following week with 36 faces counting on me to guide them and prepare them for the next year. One thing I knew for certain was that I was not alone; I had four other corps members at my school and the rest of the Delaware corps members that were quickly becoming my close friends. Staff from Rodel, the mayor’s office, Senator Carper, and even the Delaware Secretary of Education, Dr. Lillian Lowery, had greeted us. All of these people were supporting our efforts. We were all honored and emboldened with a sense of urgency and duty to make significant gains in our classrooms.
I began as a kindergarten teacher, slightly overwhelmed with the knowledge that I was responsible for teaching these young boys and girls the foundation for the rest of their academic career. If I did not meet my students’ needs and I did not meet the goals that we set, then I was actually causing the problem and expanding the achievement gap. That first year was a roller coaster of emotions, successes, failures, late nights, and challenges. I finished that year amazed at the progress my babies had made, relieved that I was finished with the hardest year of my life, and ready to make next year even more successful because now I knew what to expect. I was not only amazed at the progress my students made but also of the roles each of my 2009 colleagues had stepped into. Ms. Ehret came to work each day with boundless energy, enthusiasm, and creativity that made the students and me smile at all times. Ms. Gleason channeled her love of art and education, to develop and implement an art program in our school because we did not have an art teacher or Specials programs. Mrs. Moyer’s reading comprehension lessons and warm, but strict voice always kept students on the edge of their seats or creeping closer to her on the carpet to catch every word she said. Mr. Blackwell stepped up to the plate as a hard-nosed disciplinarian but well-respected teacher by the students. His love of politics brought local officials into the classroom and helped our students explore our government and its beginnings at the Constitution Center. Working alongside these teachers made me confident in our ability to work towards closing the achievement gap for our students; they made me work harder at being an effective teacher. And these are only examples from the Teach for America teachers at my school; teachers at Warner Elementary and the other charter schools in the city mirrored these actions by transforming their classrooms and stepping into their own roles at their respective schools.
I came back from the much needed summer vacation ready to go. I moved to second grade where I was tested once more by many students and an under-staffed school environment. In many ways it was more challenging than my first year, I knew what these students were capable of and wanted to push them to get there. My sanity, endurance, and creativity were tested on a daily basis. On the last day of school, I knew it had been worth it when I got the smiles, hugs, and tentative questions from my students and their parents asking, “Will I still be in your class next year?” That question was worth each frustrating moment I encountered in the past two years. I still haven’t completely fulfilled my goal of creating that perfect, high-achieving, productive classroom and it will continue to be my goal as I return next year to second grade to push the same group of kindergarteners I began with to meet their targets for reading, math, and writing. I have built strong relationships with many of my students and their families and I am looking forward to continuing those relationships over the next couple of years.
Reflecting over the past two years, there are many places that I can improve in my instruction, classroom management, planning, etc. But I look around at the teachers in my school, the corps members in classrooms around the city, and the support network we have in Delaware and I see progress being made and conversations being had about what works, how we can teach this lesson better, what can make read alouds more engaging. I know that the continued expansion of Teach for America in Delaware helps ensure that my students will have more teachers like those I mentioned above and our colleagues who have been teaching for many years.