Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - September 2009 - (Page 56)
Alex Salinsky ’07 teaches in a South Louisiana middle school as a member of Teach for America.
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Making the Commitment
Teach For America changes lives, for both students and teachers |
BY ALEX SALINSKY ’07
“MAN, I DON’T KNOW THIS!” I’m in my English classroom, and that’s not an unfamiliar bellow I’m hearing. It’s Shad faced with a vocabulary quiz he’s not quite ready for. The quiz has been knocked to the floor and his head is hidden behind his big arms. Looking up to the rough image of older kids and men who have dropped out of school, he has resigned himself to a reputation as a bad and even dumb kid. The truth is, he’s incredibly perceptive. Even though Shad is on a fourth-grade reading level at 13 years old, he quickly finds connections between events in books and in the world that others struggle with. “Shad, I know this looks difficult, but you will get a better score if you try.” He is still surprised that I don’t yell at him as many teachers have. Staring at his quiz on the floor and then at me, he opens his mouth, and I wait for the usual string of angry reasons why he won’t even try to take the quiz. This time, though, he changes his mind. Shad takes the quiz. I have just become an alumnus of Teach For America, having spent the last two years as a corps member teaching students in an underdeveloped community in rural Louisiana. Teach For America (TFA) recruits graduates from
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top colleges to teach a minimum of two years in under-resourced schools. These are places where only 50 percent of kids graduate high school, and where those who do graduate perform on an eighthgrade level. Children in lowincome communities have additional challenges including limited access to health care and inconsistent living arrangements. The schools in these areas frequently lack enough exceptional teachers and resources to catch kids up. I have seen the guardians of my students work two jobs and 70-hour weeks to make ends meet. I regularly see students who, had they gone to my school in my state, would blow me out of the water in everything they do. That is, if they had my opportunities. This is referred to as the “achievement gap,” and it widens with age. I view the change TFA makes on two levels. On the micro level, I watch as the small groups of students I work with improve each day. As an RPI graduate, I have a unique opportunity to expose my students to new technologies. We have published blogs, edited images, and even video-conferenced with RPI undergraduates. I watch as my students begin to thrive academically, sometimes growing two or more years. My students grow, too, in the way that
they approach learning and each other. In my first few months I learned that I am not just a teacher; I’m a sort of life coach as well. On the macro level, I see that completing a two-year commitment changes a person forever. See Michelle Rhee, who founded the New Teacher Project, which allows scientists, engineers, and others to become certified teachers. She is best known as the chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, where she has made amazing strides in a large, struggling school system to the point that presidential candidates McCain and Obama both tried to claim Rhee’s success for their own party during last year’s debates. Rhee is only the most public of examples; my own principal, Allison El Koubi, has returned as a leading example of an effective
administrator some 10 years after starting as a corps member. In fact, two-thirds of TFA corps members continue working in education at some level. I could be doing any number of other things around the country and the world—some that would take me out of the classroom, some that would pay quite well, some that would allow me to continue on the path I had originally started when first walking up freshman hill. I’m privileged to have so many choices, but I know that so many students across the country are just like Shad—frustrated but full of potential. With programs like Teach For America, these children are increasingly likely to find the support, encouragement, and true academic challenges that they need to be successful. Because I have the rare opportunity here and now to help change the course of history, to be on the front lines of the civil rights movement of our time, I’ve decided to teach another year. Alex Salinsky ’07 is a Teach For America alumnus at Jackson Middle School in South Louisiana. This year, Teach For America corps members will impact 8,500 students in Louisiana alone.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - September 2009
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - September 2009
Biology at Its Most Basic
A New Class of Leaders
One Last Thing
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - September 2009