Follow your passion & Teach For America

With graduation right around the corner, I have been reflecting a lot on the beginning of my time at UVM.

I giggle when I think of how I imagined my life would be at the beginning of my first year. I thought it was very important to have the right bedsheets because I anticipated my new college friends would see them and know I was really cool.

I also planned out every class I would take over the next four years, knew where I would get my master’s in art therapy and figured I would graduate college with a 4.0 GPA just like I did in high school.

It only took one class, “Why Build That?,” to completely destroy my plan and make me fall in love with a new one. Before anyone gets too excited, let me explain: I fell in love with art history.

I started using my homework readings as a study break from the psychology classes that were supposed to have my heart.

For the first time, I realized that sometimes, planning brings me more of a sense of security than happiness. While my plans do keep me grounded, some of the best moments of my life occurred when I allowed a little room for spontaneity.

Let’s not get crazy — I haven’t thrown out my color-coded planners or joined a Spice Girls cover band. I was surprised when I received a call last summer from Teach For America, a prestigious alternative teaching certification program, I decided to let the recruitment manager tell me about this opportunity.

I wanted to have options after graduation, so Teach For America was already included among programs I hoped to apply to before the school year ever started. But to be perfectly honest, I never thought I was special enough to be a teacher.

Formal classroom teachers have the power to affect hundreds of kids every single day. And, I had spent the last four years falling in love with art history. I planned to look for Museum Education positions in the tri-state area. I felt this type of position was a good compromise.

While education was one of the greatest gifts I felt I had received, working in a museum still did not hold the weight of interacting with the same kids every day and knowing that I had the potential to make or break their future.

But when Dan, the recruiter, shared his experience teaching English to fourth graders in Houston, it reminded me of the English teacher that had saved my life in the eighth grade.

My teacher saw me in a way that no one else had. After my dad had died that year I felt so helpless. That year I ate lunch in her room every single day. It was the first time since he died that I actually felt like someone genuinely cared.

She made me realize that the same things that made life seem unbearable were also the sources of my resilience.

She made me feel as if my feelings and experiences mattered. Dan also made me realize that my leadership skills lent themselves well to becoming a person like my English teacher. Dan was looking for leaders capable of listening, learning quickly and building relationships. I’d done a lot of that during my time in undergrad and I could apply it all to a classroom.

Teaching is certainly an immensely difficult job, particularly when serving students who face the challenges of poverty. But I know that my life has been profoundly changed by the teachers I have had, and I could not be the person I am today without them.

I hope that their wisdom will stick with me over the next two years as I work in New York City teaching English special education. I never really noticed the leadership skills, ability to build relationships and passion for equity that I and so many others have honed in college as a path to the teaching.

But using those skills I hope to challenge myself, learn and grow tremendously and make sure kids get the education they deserve is actually the best path I could imagine.

So if you or someone you know is filled with heart, drive, dedication and a desire to advocate for justice, consider Teach For America. Teaching may not have been a part of your plan when you first got to UVM, but sometimes you discover the best things when you steer off course.