Brooke Britt, Hobbton High School physical science teacher, found herself somewhat outside of her comfort zone as her teaching career began, but it has led her to experience teaching that has changed her life. The opportunity she said found her.
Teach for America, which is an organization that focuses on matching educators to areas in the country with socio-economic difficulties, found Britt while she was in her senior year at UNC-Wilmington.
“I didn’t see myself teaching initially,” recalled Britt during an interview last week. “I majored in English expecting to go on straight to graduate school.” But there was something about the Teach for America program that caught her eye, and she ended up applying at the last minute and at the final deadline.
“I have always had an interest in education,” said Britt. “But at first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach now or later.” When she found the Teach for America program, Britt the mission and vision of the program really struck a chord with her, and she liked the way the program was structured. After graduating, she started substitute teaching but felt like it wasn’t enough, leading to her to Teach for America. For her induction into Teach for America,she went to Rocky Mount. Britt said she never felt out of place because she has always been in diverse areas with rich culture and community.
“I am a patient person, but I like doing things all the time,” she said. Britt stated that she likes her life having momentum. This momentum is what caused her to go for an interview for the program, which was held at NC State University. After that interview she realized it was something she really wanted to do.
Her choice led her to the Mississippi Delta.
The teachers that are selected for this program are expected to teach in low income areas for at least two years, and the teachers receive a variety of incentives to help with the transition. Teachers are eligible for student loan repayments of $5,500 per year, money through no-interest loans or grants for assistance with transitional relocation, as well as interest forbearance for existing government funded loans. Because the program is affiliated with Americorp they offer help with freezing student debts as well as the educational grants.
“The program provided me with resources and training,” she said glancing around her Hobbton High classroom. While training in the Mississippi Delta, she took masters courses in education and pedagogy. Her classes were at Delta State University which is in Cleveland, Miss. It was there that she started learning what it was to be a teacher, what that meant to her, as well as testing her own abilities. Britt found herself working grueling hours, taking graduate level classes, teaching summer school, and commuting over an hour to her school every day.
She would get up at the crack of dawn, get on a bus, and travel over an hour away to the school she was teaching at, which was called Greenfield School. She lived in the dorms of Delta State University and she started with summer school, which Britt said is longer than summer school here. They particularly needed teachers for summer school, she pointed out.
This program benefits both urban and rural areas. Areas that are currently experiencing more need include Las Vegas Valley, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Detroit and Memphis as stated on their website. Teach for America offers assistance with the completion of qualifications as well as coaching. Each corps member’s assignment is determined by the regional need, each state’s certification requirements, as well as the preferences of the member. One does not have to be already qualified as an educator in order to work with Teach for America. While working with Teach for America Britt had a Core Member Advisor, or CMA, who helped her stay focused.
“My CMA was very inspirational,” said Britt. “My CMA drove me to work harder than I ever imagined.” She explained that her CMA was all about focusing on what she was trying to achieve with her students and focusing on hands-on teaching everyday. This transformational change, as Britt called it, is what made this work so well for her. It was not just about drilling facts and teaching content to students, it was about teaching kids to connect and apply what they learned in their everyday life.
“I felt it was important for the students to see the whole journey,” said Britt. “For me it was about instilling life-long learning in my students.” Everyday she focuses on how to study, helping students learn skills not directly related to the content, as well being a better person she said. She said that sometimes she had parents who did not have a good experience in school and that occasionally that negativity is passed on to the children.
“Some of it is heartbreaking,” she attested. “Some of the students have tough exteriors, but I find joy in being with kids.” This joy she has was clearly transferred by her efforts for her students in her classroom one time when she was in Mississippi. She explained that she was reading a book to the students about a birthday party. Before class had started she decorated the classroom with party decorations and birthday hats. She said her students couldn’t help but be curious at that point.
“It was important to give the students a catalyst for their learning,” she stressed. “I wanted an inviting and warm environment for my students.” While she was providing this experience for her students, Britt said she came to realize a lot about herself. She said that the whole experience was a large learning experience for her and that it made her realize what was at stake for these kids she was teaching.
“I realized then that it was up to me me to set these kids up for success,” said Britt. The students she taught that summer were rising ninth graders.
When Britt came to Hobbton High School, she came as a freshman and she went to school from kindergarten to 9th grade in the Hobbton District. She transferred from Hobbton High to South Johnson High, where she graduated. Britt’s mother is a data manager at the middle school, and is pleased to have her daughter home again, Britt said.
Each teacher in the program goes through a rigorous summer program that includes “consists of a three to five day regional induction, a five-week institute, and a one to two week regional orientation” as stated on their website. The teacher is required to complete all of this summer training in order to join the corps.
During this training the teachers taught in cohorts, said Britt. The teams shared a rotation which allowed for the teachers to both teach and observe. This also allowed the teacher to participate in chanting outside the school to encourage the students and keep them excited about being at school.
“For many of the students just being there was a major accomplishment,” said Britt. High fives were given and Britt said it lead to a great start for the day for the students. Focusing on literacy was an important component of her work in Mississippi said Britt, especially learning and knowing how to read. She encouraged her students to read what they wrote back to to themselves. Celebrating growth, playing games with the kids, and meeting parents kept everyone feeling encouraged, which Britt clearly felt she did during her time in the Mississippi Delta with Teach for America.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org