Induction… I have known for several weeks that June 1st was coming closer and closer, but somehow I was still shocked the my senior year passed so quickly as I boarded my plane to Charlotte. Unsure of what to expect, I was a bit nervous at first, but quickly found that Teach For America (TFA) is one large family. Not only did 2012 Corp Member pick me up from the airport, but she also took me to the grocery store to buy snacks. It was very nice of her! Shortly, after I went to my dorm and meet other students from across the country as well as one familiar face from Elon. We all bonded in our anticipation for what would be our first official day.
Day 1: After waking up early and learning 20 new faces (I forgot almost everyones name that I met for breakfast) we forgot in small groups to registration. As soon as we turned the corner and entered the building we were met with smiling faces, loud cheers, and a wave of TFA staff in purple shirts. It made everyone feel incredibly comfortable as we met our staff and received bags, candy, snacks, and a ton of resources for the week.
Shortly after, we headed off to our induction welcome speech, where we discussed the importance of our work. In the speech, the director placed an emphasis on choosing a verb for this week. I chose the verb empower. After learning more statistics about Charlotte, it became more evident why Teach For America was needed in Charlotte. Several statistics were displayed that heightened the inequality gaps in the area as well as information about the state of North Carolina. After hearing from several staff, we had the opportunity to hear from the kings and queens of Charlotte. We eyed the room nervously wondering who the king and queens could be. Maybe the founder Windy Kopp? How about the Mayor of Charlotte? Maybe the superintendent for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools? Then we stood up and applauded as two teenagers (one male and one female) walked to the podium and explained why good teachers and important to them. After receiving much applause, we were reminded by the staff that we were chosen to serve the kings and queens of Charlotte – the boys and girls who need our help the most.
One of the most powerful experiences was sharing our story on our first day. We went around in small groups and explained stories about our life. In the blink of an eye, I found myself so much closer with those sitting in my circle. No longer was I “Jordan Thomas from Elon”, but instead “Jordan Thomas as an important family member of Teach For America”. I listened in awe as some of my classmates shared inspiring stories that made us all closer than you could imagine. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but think about how much of my identity was shaped by my family, the places I’ve been, and the intriguing conversations that I’ve had with great people.
Throughout the week we heard a lot from the Charlotte community, TFA staff, and other children in the CMS system. We listened together as we learned about the educational problems facing the city of Charlotte. We all stood in awe as we acquired knowledge about education in the city of Charlotte and how low-income communities have been torn apart time throughout the past. We rode the public transportation in small groups to get a better understanding of the setbacks that some of our students face. My group traveled to East Charlotte to the Latin American Coalition, where we learned about the issues facing the Latin America Community. I was shocked to learn that undocumented immigrants have a little change of attending college in NC despite being able to work (but receive no benefits). It turns out that there are very few schools in NC that allow undocumented children to attend college (even if they have an excellence GPA and great test scores). Even more shocking is that fact that an immigrant can come to the US on a VISA and simply forget to leave on the right date, which then makes them an undocumented citizen. Should a child be punished because their parents wanted to give them a better education by leaving behind the problems in their own country? In my mind, it is clear that the answer is NO! Immigration reform is a must in the future. Despite learning more information, I left feeling hopeful learning that the center sponsors in SAT prep, college visits, and pushes for government reform through advocacy work.
Throughout the week, we attended a cookout at a park, housing information session, several speakers, and dozens of team-building exercises. One of the most touching experiences was receiving a letter from a current student addressed to a ‘future math teacher’, highlighting why math teachers are important. I also enjoyed the support from the People of Color within TFA as I attended a special dinner. It’s always important to make minorities feel welcome in any organization. One of the largest takeaways was that we are all leaders that gave the ability to teach our students. On Friday evening, we had our 2014 Corp Member Closing dinner that ended my time at Induction. We all sat with other TFA members, and students from the community. After listening to the young girl named Aiyana and her teacher (a TFA 2013 Corp Member) speak, I was shocked to learn that she and her classmates had been finalist in a competition sponsored by Warren Buffett (The billionaire). Not only where they flown down to meet him, but they had the opportunity to present their project in front of him. As a fourth grade class, they had created an idea for a sustainable backpack that was environmentally friendly while feeding others (ALL IN 4th GRADE!!! ). Wow! Despite not winning the competition, they all received several share of Berkshire Hathaway B and $500. This is important because it shows that good things are happening when all the media seems to do is dwell on the issues facing some of the schools in the CMS system. Let me know of the next time you hear of a 4th grader creating a sustainable business idea! I was playing video games at that age…. At the dinner I heard stories of many children who struggled before having good teachers who pushed them to be successful. One in particular made us all think of the teacher we wanted to be as we listened to one young woman explain how she struggled from being mentally abused at home and physically & mentally at home. We listened as she explained that she sank in depression after her younger brother committed suicide after being bullied at school. I found her story very inspiring as she is now one of the top students in her class because of the care a TFA teacher showed her and because of her own hard work. I am very fortunate to have never had to have gone through an experience as traumatizing as that.
In conclusion at our dinner, our Charlotte VP explained that we are a large family now and that family members work together. She had us turn to the person to the left/right and repeat “I can do some things that you can’t. You can do some things I can’t. But together, we can do anything”! When I think back to my verb, I choose the verb empower because I want to empower my students. I can teach them math, but that won’t help them to develop the skills necessary to survive. Teaching them math is the primary focus, but that cannot be the only focus. As I teach them math, I must ensure that they utilize their brain and not just simply memorize an outdated formula (as so many others were taught) because critical thinking skills are a survival skill. I understand that college is not for everyone, but all my students will be able to name a few college’s in NC before they transition out of my class. Last but least, I want to empower myself to the best teacher within my capacity so that my students can receive the best education possible.
I have made plenty of friends throughout Induction and here are a few pics: