Angelina Fonseca '06, September 3rd, 2007
What’s that racket in the gym across the schoolyard? Two hundred fourth and fifth graders are anxious to meet their new classmates and teacher. Some students naturally tease the nervous and quiet students, getting into trouble before the first bell rings. I turn on the relaxing music, write my name on the board, and tape chart paper on the wall. I am as nervous as the 18 fifth grade students that walk into my portable classroom ready to start the year off with a bang.
Fonseca’s class during the first week of school, when they still met in the portable classroom. Fonseca called her class the Buccaneers “because I wanted them to sail around the world to success, a theme for learning for the year!”
“Good morning, class. Buenos dias, clase,” I say with a strong, confident voice. Smile. No, don’t smile. Wait, should I start out with an inspiring, motivational speech? Should we do a get-to-know-you activity first? Should I have them write an essay about their expectations for the year? Or should I read them a story?
It’s the first day of school. I’ve prepared an agenda and must accomplish several mini-lessons. I must explain our class procedures, what I expect from the students, and then practice those procedures for weeks. I know I will see results. It just takes patience and time.
This first day is unique from all the other days of school that will follow because the students are not talking to each other. I give my students a tour of the room: taped homemade posters for reading, math, science, social studies, and language arts to display student work on the wall. Our year’s goal is the most important part of the day, so that students can invest in what they will work toward and know why it is imperative to attend school daily. Our class goal is to earn 90% or higher on weekly assessments and, ultimately, on the TAKS exams toward the end of the school year. (I have many issues with standardized testing I will not mention but, since that is how the state determines the achievement of students, that is a goal my class worked toward.)
Students exercising on Walking Wednesday for PE. Teachers were encouraged to walk with their students and have time outside the classroom to exercise.
I share with the students my favorite classroom fixture: a map of the world. I want to share my knowledge of the world with them. I refer back to the map during more than one lesson daily, demonstrating how our reading, math and science contributions came from different countries. My goal is for them to know what other students their age experience in a different culture and inspire them to travel one day to foreign lands. How will they get there? Through hard work, determination, and an education.
During that first day of school, we got to know each other: our favorite subjects, food, music, sport, television show. To my surprise only three students had a favorite book. That was another goal of mine, for students to love books and to develop good reading habits. The students made the class rules themselves; they contributed to the foundation of the classroom. I explained the consequences and rewards systems. There were many tasks that kept the class organized, so managers were elected by their classmates. Managers would lose the leadership privilege if behavior was poor.
I tried to run my class like a company, using good grades and hard work to earn bonuses, and a democratic system to keep leaders in check. Teaching is like creative services marketing, relaying a message to fifth grade students, a market hungry for a wealth of knowledge, seeking fun-filled lessons with an energetic, supportive environment.
Fonseca’s students learn about the solar system by pretending to be the planets, rotating and revolving to understand season cycles and movements. Anna is holding a yellow umbrella representing the sun.
I am in Brownsville, Texas, five minutes from the Mexican border, to teach students all that I can. I decided to join Teach For America after attending an informational session at the Career Services Center at Texas A&M. Teach For America is an organization I had to join with a personal goal to serve others and share the education I had received from amazing teachers, professors, and mentors. TFA is a non-profit organization affiliated with the AmeriCorp program. TFA’s mission is to enlist the nation’s most promising future leaders in the movement to eliminate educational inequality, recruiting people of all academic majors and career interestsâ€”who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools in our nation’s lowest-income communities and become lifelong leaders for expanding educational opportunity.
My placement was bilingual kindergarten. To prepare, I taught in a month-long Houston summer school institute, planning lessons until 11 p.m. daily with two team members. Time was spent practicing those lessons, preparing worksheets, trying out hands-on mini-lessons, and receiving guidance, evaluations, and support from other teachers. Intense is the only way to describe that experience. The training program is very challenging since the majority of TFA teachers are not education majors. In reality, you must learn in a month what education majors study for four years.
When I arrived, my principal had other plans for my teaching position, so I accepted an offer to teach fifth grade bilingual elementary. It would not be anything like my Houston summer school experience, but I would take those lessons of classroom management, lesson planning, and keeping a young mind’s attention with me into an upper elementary classroom setting. It was a blessing to have another TFA teacher next door to my room. Ali Turro was a great support; we planned units of study together and shared resources.
Fonseca helped at a few practices for the ballroom dance team. The students did very well at the competition, with two couples placing fourth in the Meringue.
I also taught music history and composition, and coached a few practices of ballroom dancing for the fifth grade team. Teaching after school tutorial was rewarding as well; we were able to focus on specific skills and weaknesses in a smaller group setting, with one-on-one practice.
My principal had the challenge of opening the newest elementary school, so he warned that the beginning of the year would not be easy. What a blessing it was to move to a new building in the middle of the year, when we started out the term with little resources and space, no music, library, or technology classes, or on-site support. Our new facility had a library, Internet access, computers and projectors, and accommodations any faculty member or student in Brownsville would be elated to have. The school was very grateful to receive so many luxuries after coming from portables in the backyard of another elementary school.
Realizing the lack of exposure to books, lack of support, and lack of resources to support learning in a low socio-economic environment has made me want to dedicate a part of my life to increasing educational opportunities for children, whether I am a school teacher, global marketer, or graduate student. Whatever the future holds, I will always be working toward improving education. It is what opens doors and gets you ahead in life. I am grateful to have experienced a life of higher education, literacy, and constant learning.
“My homeroom class. I dressed up for Charro Days, a Mexican celebration. They are all smiles because they would miss two days of school for the holiday before taking the TAKS test.”
My first year with TFA was a reciprocal exchange of knowledge. I extended my range of Spanish vocabulary and conversation skills, teaching three of my students reading, math, and science in Spanish, while teaching 14 others in English at the same time. It was the most challenging task I had ever experienced. I learned that a teacher takes on many roles in a student’s life: mentor, role model, a person that will listen and give the attention to their creative ideas. The students achieved their personal goals of going on to the sixth grade, and many accomplished the class goal of 90% or more on their reading, math, and science TAKS exams. In the last two weeks of school, we read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and completed research projects on the Internet. Each student chose a country to learn about and designed a passport to their country to present to the class the last week of school. From The Alchemist, the students learned that taking the road less traveled, facing challenges, persevering, and learning from mistakes makes you a stronger person and ends in a well-rounded education.
I will take many lessons from my two years with TFA into the next career I pursue. In my second year, I will have the opportunity to teach pre-kindergarten and develop these young minds with a foundation of literacy in English. I hope to enter a graduate program in global/multicultural marketing in August 2008 and work for an international organization promoting free-trade and higher education to students in developing countries.
The value of today may not be apparent. Learning is not just knowing information, it is using it and living the information learned. It’s more than an education, it’s life.
For more information:
Teach for America: www.teachforamerica.org