My TFA Story and Why I Believe It Should Be Here to Stay

When I was growing up, I was fortunate to have some really awesome teachers. I had teachers who challenged me, inspired me, pushed me to ask questions, encouraged me to think critically, and most importantly believed in me. I looked up to them as role models and trusted their knowledge and advice. Looking back now, I definitely didn’t appreciate them as much as I should have.

As I graduated high school and moved onto college, becoming a teacher was never really in my imagined career path. I always thought that “when I grew up,” I was going to become a doctor or a stem cell researcher and really make a difference by helping others. So, I majored in chemistry, took all of the pre-med required courses, and worked in a lab conducting stem cell research. I was on the path headed towards medical school.

I was challenged by my classes and intrigued by the research, but I still wanted to help others. So, I spent a lot of my time organizing community service projects, coordinating blood drives, and volunteering at local high schools. College flew by, and by the time I was starting my senior year, I wasn’t in the medical school application process like my pre-med peers. I did, however, start the chapter of Strive for College at NYU, an organization where college undergraduates mentor underserved high school juniors and seniors throughout their college application process and successfully built relationships with public high schools near our campus.

The summer before my senior year I started receiving emails from Teach for America. I didn’t take them seriously at first because teaching wasn’t in my planned career path, but then I started going to the informational sessions and meeting recruiters (mainly for the free food, I was a college student on a budget). After realizing that medical school wasn’t my next step right after college, I decided to apply for Teach for America.

I was one of those TFAers — the ones that bring some of the most criticism to Teach for America. My plan was to teach for the required two years, gain some experience, and then go to medical school.

Life doesn’t always happen as you plan. My first year of teaching was hard. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that. I had classes of 40 students, running a blended learning three station rotation, based off of a curriculum that I had to create (as a first year teacher), all while taking graduate classes at LMU to earn my credential and master’s degree. It was crazy and probably one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but I survived.

My second year got a lot easier. I was still taking graduate classes at LMU and creating my own curriculum, but I had the experience of my first year behind me. My second year turned into my third year where I was part of the Third Year Fellowship, and then my fourth year where I was mentoring TFA corps members.

Looking back five years later I don’t know where the time has gone. I love being a teacher, writing engaging and relevant curriculum and forming meaningful relationships with my students. I am so thankful for the opportunity that Teach for America has provided me. Although teaching was not originally what I wanted to be “when I grow up,” it is now my career.

Recently, a former student from the first class that I ever taught came back to visit. She is in her third year at UC Santa Cruz and graduating a year early thanks to the credits that she earned while in high school. She shared with me how much she was impacted by her high school teachers, some of them (including me!) TFA, and that she is applying to Teach for America. I know one day that she will be an awesome teacher.

This is why I teach. All students — no matter their race, socioeconomic status or school — deserve some really awesome teachers that care about them and their futures. Nobody is perfect, and neither is Teach for America, but the organization is striving to make a difference and provide alternate opportunities for educators (like me and my former student) to earn their teaching credential. I am proud to say that I am an alum and wouldn’t be in the classroom today if it wasn’t for Teach for America.

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Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert is a proud product of New York public schools where she graduated with her International Baccalaureate diploma. She went off to attain her B.A. in Chemistry with concentrations in Public Health and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies at NYU. While at NYU, she started the chapter of “Strive for College,” a non-profit organization that connects college students as mentors to assist high schoolers throughout the college application and financial aid processes. Immediately after graduation, Chelsea pursued her teaching career with Teach for America Los Angeles. While teaching, Chelsea completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University. Chelsea is currently teaching at her Teach for America placement school in Lincoln Heights where she serves as Department Instructional Lead, Instructional Leadership Team member, and coaches Varsity soccer.

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