A Boundless Hope

It’s been a jam-packed two and a half days so far, the vast majority of my time spent answering and asking what I’ve narrowed down to the five key questions any new TFA corps member must be prepared to discuss: What’s your name? Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What are you teaching? Have you been placed?

I’ve probably cycled through that information 50+ times, and I haven’t even met everyone yet! As a South Carolina resident, it’s been particularly fun answering the newcomers’ questions about the state and hearing about their preconceived notions about the south.

Yes, Bojangles serves fried chicken (but I think Zaxby’s is better). Yes, there are alligators. Yes, Charleston is amazing – duh. No, South Carolina barbecue is not served with Kraft barbecue sauce. And have you ever heard of a Palmetto bug? If you haven’t, don’t Google it. Seriously.

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TFA SC does Cookout!

And tonight I had the pleasure of introducing some friends to the glorious Cookout milk shake (another thing not to Google…the calorie count in those things. Sheesh!).

What I have also vastly enjoyed is the opportunity to speak about the education in the state, as well as the sociopolitical climate, based on my firsthand experience. I attended high school in Dorchester County, where the median income is $49,636 or 107.3% of the national average. By comparison, Colleton County, where I will be teaching, has a median income of $31,059, or 67.2%.

The County is less than an hour from my house, but the difference is striking. When we were introduced to the landscape of South Carolina (not the landscape you’re probably thinking of!), we talked a lot about the rapidly growing communities, such as the North Charleston area where my family lives, which are situated right next to communities being eroded by massive population loss. I know when my family moved from Virginia to the Charleston area more than 8 years ago, my parents researched and decided to move within the boundaries of the best school district in the state.

But while my family had the means and opportunity to dictate our educational access in such a way – providing me the chance to participate in the International Baccalaureate program and attain an excellent education that charted me on a path of endless possibility – this is not possible for every family. The students in these communities have a great need. They need an advocate, they need a teacher that’s on a fire, a teacher that will serve them selflessly, a teacher that will hold them accountable and have high expectations, but also understand their unique background and experiences. A teacher that may be a little naïve and idealistic, but will hope, pray for, rejoice with, cry alongside, and love them unconditionally.

While I may have resisted when my family first moved down south from Northern Virginia, I am now so proud to say that I am from South Carolina. And I am proud to say that I will be working as part of an incredible movement on track to change the face of education in the state. The positivity, hope, joy, and passion that has been exhibited by everyone in the TFA SC family in just the past few days is so inspiring to see…and absolutely contagious! I’m so excited to see what we all accomplish in the state I’ve grown to love so much.

The Adventure Begins

The day has finally arrived! Tomorrow I start my grand adventure with Teach for America. It’s been almost a year since I first began to seriously consider applying to TFA and I could not be more excited for what lies ahead. I will spend the rest of this week in Florence, SC for Induction with fellow corps members placed in the state and then will hit the road Sunday for five weeks of training and teaching in Cleveland, Mississippi. It’s going to be a challenging, inspiring, whirlwind of a month and I’m looking forward to sharing the ups and downs on my blog.

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Sixth grade Caitlin had some pretty neat ideas!

As I was finishing up packing tonight, I came across a class journal entry from sixth grade where I first wrote about wanting to be a teacher and even outlined a lesson and behavior plans for my “class.” How fitting! My career aspirations began with working as a pediatrician (that was, until I saw blood) and jumped to journalism most recently (until the blessing of an eye-opening internship). But somewhere deep inside I think I always knew I would end up in front of the classroom – even if I didn’t always admit it to myself and others. I’m so thankful that I discovered Teach for America and feel blessed to be a part of their mission to end educational inequity. As a teacher, I want to be a creator of change, a source of hope, and an enduring advocate for the children who might not be lucky enough to share the good fortune I received in the form of a top-notch education. Teach for America provides the opportunity, resources, and support to work toward this mission.

This is going to be a wonderful journey.