Following the signs: From UMN to the classroom

As a teacher, it was my job to bring my experiences at  the University of Minnesota to my students. Being located a stone’s throw away from campus made that task easier. While teaching a unit on genocide, a topic that many of my students could relate to, having left behind difficult circumstances in East Africa, my students and I met with the holocaust and genocide studies department on campus.

There, my students asked experts questions  and reviewed primary documents to inform their research papers. It was this experience — learning what it was like to be on a college campus and doing research like college students — that gave my students the confidence that college was attainable.

As I now enter my fifth year in education, I’ve done public policy research and work at almost every level: teaching my students at Opportunity High School, working with Tennessee’s Department of Education to support school districts and partnering with school districts across the country to build excellent schools.

But this year, I’m excited to see this work in a new way. In the fall of 2015, my sister will be joining Teach For America’s Twin Cities corps as an elementary teacher. For her, the classroom has been on her mind all along, unlike me.

This past summer, she worked at an elementary literacy program through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, teaching little ones with big potential. Hearing her talk about her students’ gains this summer with her lifetime commitment to this work makes me proud to watch her through this journey.

In many ways, our story illustrates the theory behind Teach For America — great teachers can come from all backgrounds, majors and experiences. By bringing together diverse and passionate leaders to leverage their skills, we can change the trajectories of students’ lives and ensure that education works for every child.

Education is in need of excellent teachers and leaders — those who grew up wanting to be teachers and those who connected the dots, walked into a classroom and realized they’d been headed there all along. As you contemplate your path and purpose after graduation, I hope you’ll follow the signs and consider teaching as a career as well.