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Home  > Article

What you can learn from hanging in there

By Camille Asher

Camille's experience in the Teach for America program has taught her a lot about perseverance and its value - both for herself and her students.

When I explain to people where I am now, it is hard to know where to begin.  

I am a Teach For America corps member teaching eighth grade science at Sauceda Middle School in Donna, Texas, 10 miles from Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley.   

At the beginning of this school year, I learned that my eighth graders were performing on a fifth grade level. The achievement gap was no longer a phrase buzzing on the lips of college professors or social activists.

The achievement gap was real. Most pointedly, the problem was rooted in my students' inability to add, to know the difference between a state and a continent, to know of the horrors of the Holocaust, or to comprehend what they read.

But as I raise expectations and radiate my own passion for learning, the difference becomes tangible. As my students wrap their hands around an exothermic mixture of calcium carbonate and water, or as they watch non-dairy creamer disappear in a "whoosh" of fire, or when they smile at simply understanding - then, I am content.

I feel that I could be no other place. These smiles are more apparent, when finally, after weeks of practice, Alejandro becomes confident in his ability to calculate an object's volume using a graduated cylinder, or when Cristina finally learns where to place the protons and neutrons in a model of the atom.  

The bell rings at 3:55 p.m. and I step outside into the 105-degree Texas heat to report to patio duty, reflecting on the immense challenges that these young minds face.  

And yet they persevere. And so do we. Relentlessly, 4,400 Teach For America corps members across the country fight the systemic injustices that prevent kids in low-income communities from receiving an excellent education.

Many mornings while driving to school, going 75 miles per hour on Expressway 83, I become overwhelmed. I consider my 5:45 a.m. awakening and my 7 p.m. return; my breath catches with anxiety and fatigue.

But then I picture myself in front of the whiteboard, facing eager hands as they wave in the air, voices clamoring to be heard, hopeful for knowledge.

The thought of my students rejuvenates me. I forget my lone Subaru winding along the interstate and instead envision 4,400 cars across the country speeding to school, each driven by a talented and determined Teach For America corps member. It is then that I feel empowered. I am surrounded by the energy of an invisible army determined to change the world. This is a movement, a group of individuals unrelenting in their pursuit of justice, every single period of every day.   

Six months into the school year, my students are improving. Priscilla is working harder and has a solid grasp of subatomic particles and the periodic table. Gabriel has become a star student. He reads with eagerness and confidence.

Despite the small successes, the facts remain: Donna has a 40 percent high school graduation rate. One cannot simply acknowledge these facts; one must act. Becoming part of the movement to change this is a moral imperative. It is a fundamental right of these students, as citizens of this country, to receive an education that actually does teach them to read and gives them the opportunity to reach the greatest heights.

Teach For America, founded upon this principle, is a movement that works to make justice a reality.  

A fortune cookie once told me that adversity is the best education. Now, for me, this phrase rings true. Yes, this experience is unbelievably taxing - emotionally, mentally, and physically - yet, it is profound and truly transformative.

Teach For America has inspired me, as Fernando Cardnal so eloquently proclaimed, to refuse the life of the spectator and choose instead the chance to become a protagonist. Teach For America brought me here and delivered me into the lives of my kids. For me, my students are the faces of this movement, the fire fueling my dedication and hope. They have transformed me, and for that I can never fully thank them. I can only hope that my gratitude will reveal itself, one day, in their ability to finally attain an excellent education.  

Camille Asher graduated from BC in 2005. She is currently a Teach For America corps member in the Rio Grande Valley.

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