The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Alumni share TFA experiences

Tolleson Union High School, outside of Phoenix, Ariz., is in its 10th week of school. One of Susan Carmody’s students comes in and sits at his desk. Carmody teaches 10th grade English. Her student draws on notebook paper, but that’s about it. He will not talk. He will not write. He will not take a multiple choice standardized test.

Carmody, an ’07 SMU graduate and a Teach for America corps member, knows she will have to reach him before Arizona’s graduation test. The Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards is administered in February, and a passing grade is required to graduate. Carmody hopes she can convince her student to take it before he turns 16, the legal age to drop out of high school.

Whatever is preventing him from participating in the classroom is causing him to fail in his classes. She is on a mission to understand why so she can remedy the problem.

“These kids know it’s legal to drop out when you turn 16,” Carmody said. “If I don’t get to that kid by the end of this year, the reality of whether or not he will be in school next year is a very real obstacle.”

Teach for America corps members across the country are faced with obstacles in the classroom such as the time needed to achieve goals set for their students, the lack of resources provided by the school districts, behavioral problems among their students and even violence.

Teach for America employs more SMU graduates than any other employer. Last year, 15 SMU graduates joined the movement to close the achievement gap that exists between properly funded public schools and those vastly disadvantaged, according to Teach for America recruiter for SMU, Ashlee Harley. Carmody’s student is one of millions who’s been deprived of the adequate educational guidance and the resources necessary to succeed due to the socioeconomic conditions in which he lives, experts say.

Graduates who join Teach for America make a two-year commitment to teach in one of 26 regions around the country. The summer before corps members begin teaching, they spend five weeks of extensive training at one of five summer preparation institutes. Here, corps members work together in summer school classrooms under the supervision of experienced teachers. Corps members teach in pairs per classroom.

“Where you’re born in our country has so much to determine your educational outcome,” Wendy Kopp CEO and founder of Teach for America said at SMU’s Endowed Lecture Series in Women’s Studies on Oct. 4.

Roughly 13 million children grow up below the poverty line in the United States, according to Kopp. Half will graduate from high school and those who do graduate on the eighth-grade level. Students who attend the nation’s poorest funded public schools are, on average, three grade levels behind national standards.

Carmody said she is lucky to teach a group of “good kids,” but she struggles with time constraints and a lack of resources. Carmody’s school uses her class time to accomplish school matters such as taking yearbook photos. Since English is a four year requirement, all 10th graders should be present for her classes. This ensures collectivity if the school has business for the students to meet. However, these interruptions restrain her from executing the lesson plans she wants and needs to accomplish in order to advance her students to national standards.

Toward the end of September, Carmody sent out a mass e-mail to her family and friends explaining her need for a set of classroom books. Tolleson Union High School cannot provide the books on her class’sreading list, so her students cannot take their reading home. Carmody would like to have a classroom set of the books so the students can read silently in class, but she currently has to manage without books. Her class recently completed reading “The House on Mango Street,” aloud.

“They’re 15 years old,” Carmody said. “We don’t need to have story time in my classroom.”

Kylie Slater, an ’06 SMU graduate and a Teach for America corps member, recalled the initial behavioral problems her eighth grade English class exhibited in an e-mail to her professors. While teaching during her summer institute training in Atlanta, Ga., Slater’s co-worker was called a “hippo” to her face while Slater was almost punched by a student.

Slater, now teaching in St. Louis, Mo., said she learned quickly that the issues her students deal with outside of school affect their behavior inside the classroom. A student may have woken up early to help feed a sister’s baby, she said. Or a student may have been waiting up late for his or her mother to return from her third job. Consequently, what someone says or does can have a negative effect on such a student, often leading to an unpredictable altercation.

Mitchell London, another Teach for America corps member and an ’07 SMU graduate, is teaching high school English at Forrest City High School in Forrest City, Ark. London says he’s been handling the unexpected since he started teaching. There are days when a dedicated student can come to class unprepared or with the wrong attitude and days when a disinterested student will surprise him by coming to class prepared and ready to contribute to the class, he said.

Verbal attacks, physical fights and the challenge to learn are the conditions facing students in many of America’s poorly funded school systems. London says he’s seen all of it and more.

“It’s been an exercise in handling surprises,” London said. “You are faced with more surprises, good and bad, in your first year of teaching – more than any other time in my life.”

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