Letter to the Editor

(Brent Schwert)

Dear Lawrentians,I am a 2005 graduate of Lawrence and a current Teach For America corps member. I write to familiarize you with Teach for America’s mission, as well as to encourage you to act: TFA’s application deadline is Feb. 18.
I never gave teaching a moment’s thought for most of my Lawrence career, but, during my senior year, I found myself striving to unite the theory I had gulped in my English and philosophy courses with explicit practice. I joined AmeriCorps and began facilitating environmental education programs in low-performing public schools. While with AmeriCorps, I learned of Teach For America. A national non-profit that places recent college graduates as teachers in low-performing rural and urban schools for two years, TFA unabashedly believes that high teacher expectations drive high student performance – a conviction I, too, came to hold. I submitted my online application and interviewed; several months later I was notified that I would work in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
I began teaching 11th- and 12th-grade English and Intensive Reading at Miami Jackson Senior High in August. My students are among those for whom a high school diploma is not a given; they average between a fourth- and seventh-grade reading level. They have taken and failed the 10th-grade Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test in reading some two, three, four, even five times. Most find reading painful; they’re not good at it, and they know this.
That public education in this country does not equally serve all who receive it, and that the advantages sprouting from social privilege are not deserved, are facts we can recite smoothly. Our time at Lawrence has left us sufficiently well-read to be unsurprised by the education statistics – chances are, you know that my students’ skills mirror those of myriad low-income, minority high schoolers. If you behold any of the sentiments I did my final year at Lawrence, you can say with equal ease that educational inequity, systemic poverty, and racial injustice are realities too mammoth for one corps, let alone one individual, to improve.
My students lack literacy in part because no teacher ever offered them the long, focused hours that my elementary school writing coach, or my high school vocal coach, or that professor at Lawrence who didn’t mind meeting at the Grill on Friday evenings to discuss a paper, gave to me. These people made sure that I had the chops I needed to whittle thoughts into words and actions. The very sort of tenacity, grace, and ingenuity your teachers at Lawrence and elsewhere have pushed you to cultivate make you capable of changing the lives of America’s youth. I know this because thousands of Teach For America alums have made remarkable gains with this country’s neediest students; I could write tomes limning the feats of Miami-Dade corps members alone. These students deserve teachers like you. Teach, and make progress on the most crucial civil rights issue facing our generation.

Kendall Surfus