Graduate, Then Change the World

Teach_for_America

Photo courtesy of: www.masters-education.com

BY: KATJA HAMLER

Senior year is turning out to be everything I hoped it would. I am finally interviewing for my full-time internship and my role in my sorority was going well! The only downside to this year? The fact that it will end in May.

If you’d asked me three years ago where I was headed after graduation, I would’ve laid out my plan in full detail. From the moment I arrived on campus, I’d been preparing for a career in counseling. I had carefully chosen a school with a great human development program, I had shadowed a counselor and knew exactly what classes I would have to take to graduate on time.

Then, this past spring, sitting in a lecture on child and family services, I started to wonder. Maybe all of the skills I’ve been honing in counseling—being empathetic, understanding the family as a unit of development and working with children—were actually preparing me for something else. Maybe I could make an impact, develop my skills, and even hold on to some of the things I’ve loved most about University of Delaware as I entered the “real world” – a sense of community, school spirit, homecoming games and traditions, relationships that matter.

All of these maybes led me to Teach For America and the career I’ll begin in education this fall. Everything about it makes me anxious. Will I be good enough for my kids? Will I feel at home at my new city?  But I’m sustained by what I know. Education isn’t serving all kids in this country. We’ve got to change this – and fast.

Nothing about this will be easy. That’s because the problems in our schools didn’t start there – they reflect deep, systemic, overlapping injustice across race, class and geography. A family who can’t access health services, struggles to keep both parents employed. Those working multiple jobs need after school care but don’t live in communities with the resources to provide it. Each inequity makes the next one worse.

When we choose to teach, we choose to disrupt this cycle. This past summer, I worked as a paraprofessional at a school near campus. My time working with the students there stood in sharp contrast to the bubble of life at UD. I worked with 13 four-year-olds, many of whom were only able to recognize a few letters of the alphabet and could only count up to 5. Already behind, I knew that if things didn’t change significantly, they would struggle academically, as far too many students from low-income families do.   Their amazing ideas and strong characters taught me what so many educators already know. Our kids have boundless potential. It’s up to us to make sure they get to make the most of it.

When we come together to help kids change the way they think about their own abilities and futures, we create classrooms full of students who are dreaming big. When we equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in and out of the classroom, we cultivate boundless potential – the future scientists, politicians, writers, artists, doctors, attorneys who shape the world we are all going to share. It won’t happen overnight. It will take sustained, thoughtful effort. I want to be a part of it.

I don’t know exactly where this next step will take me. If I love teaching as much as I think I might, I’ll keep at it. Or maybe I’ll become a principal, or launch a start-up to address some of challenges my students face. Wherever I go, I hope to empower my students to break the cycle and strive to become part of a better one.

I can’t wait for school to start.

____

Katja Hamler is a current senior studying Human Services and Urban Education. She is the Sisterhood Development Chair for Phi Sigma Sigma.

 

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