Student Adventures Around The World

Michael W., Atlanta and Memphis

Michael Whaley
Map of Georgia

Michael graduated from SMU in May 2006 with a degree in political science. He is one of seven SMU students chosen by Teach for America, a national corps of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic majors who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools. He and 2,400 other new teachers were selected from 19,000 applicants. Michael will train for five weeks in Atlanta, Georgia, then head to a school in Memphis, Tennessee.

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September 4, 2006

Change of address: Memphis
Not even 2 weeks after walking the stage at graduation, I was off to begin my new job as an elementary school teacher in Tennessee. In April, I was accepted into a national service program called Teach For America, which places recent college graduates in urban and rural school districts around the country. For two years, we are committed to teach in low income communities with the goal of producing significant academic gains each year with all of our students. I was assigned to teach in Memphis,  TN along with 48 other recent (and some not so recent) college graduates from around the country. I was particularly excited to teach and live in Memphis  because this is the first year Teach For America will be in the city, Memphis  and Shelby County  have a vivid social and political history, and the BBQ is absolutely amazing!

Never say never

I spent the better part of this summer training to be the one thing I swore many times I would never be: a teacher. Along with TFA Corps Members from Phoenix, St. Louis, Miami, Charlotte, rural North Carolina, and Atlanta, we trained to become teachers for 5 weeks at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA. While the schedule in Atlanta was extremely strenuous (I really cannot emphasize the extremely enough), it was a very rewarding experience. While I was there, I taught a wonderful group of third graders at Benteen Elementary School – my very first class. After receiving our crash course in teaching, we headed back to Memphis to settle in our new region. I live near downtown Memphis in an area called Mud Island, which is right along the Mississippi River. And let me tell you, the view coming home from school along the river is really something else.

Raising the bar
As for my job, I'm teaching language arts and literacy to a great group of kids (mostly first grade) at Getwell  Elementary School in south Memphis. From what I have seen already, they are really eager to learn and succeed, and I know that if I continue to raise my expectations of them and their expectations of themselves, they will go very far in life. While school only started two weeks ago, I am feeling more and more comfortable as a teacher (which, to me, is still very weird). I anticipate that two years from now, when my commitment with the program expires, I'll be a changed person; hopefully for the better! I am still not sure what that next step will be, and probably won't for some time. Right now, I'm just focused on doing the best job I can here, and doing my part, however small it may be, in ensuring that all children, regardless of their race, where they live, or what tax bracket they fall into, are given the chance at a quality education.

June 5, 2006

Affecting change: Why I wanted to join Teach for America
     I applied for a position with Teach for America because I wanted to affect change. I believe that the single most important determining factor in one’s success in life is his or her education. Unfortunately, every child in this nation is not afforded the quality of education that he or she deserves. I applied to Teach for America because of its steadfast commitment to ensure that every child, regardless of social class, economic status or race, is given a real opportunity to achieve to their potential.

Challenging process
     The application process was extensive, challenging, and thought-provoking. After the initial application including a personal information form, a resume, and two essays, prospective corps members are invited to participate in a day-long interview in which a sample lesson is taught, a group discussion is facilitated, and a personal interview is conducted.

     At the conclusion of my two-year commitment, I hope to take away effective strategies and techniques that will help close the achievement gap on a much larger scale. On a more local level, I hope to make some kind of positive difference, however small it may be, in the lives of the kids I have been to lucky to teach.

Too many of our leaders in the community and in government do not adequately understand the complexities of our educational system. These leaders are trying to solve problems that they themselves have never experienced.