Sampson Middle School teacher Gerard Falls applied to Teach for America after graduating in December 2012. He received his acceptance in late March 2013, and he says that the program has enhanced his knowledge of the art of teaching, shown him skills for classroom management, as well as challenged him throughout the process.
“One of my classmates at Methodist University was applying to Teach for America,” he said. “I knew what it was but I hadn’t made that connection.” He later found out that one of his classmates had an interview scheduled, and hearing that caused him to think about the program more.
“If it hadn’t been for my classmate I wouldn’t have done it, but only because I wouldn’t have thought of it as an option,” he stated. Falls had not considered the program for himself despite hearing so much about it, and he felt as though there was a reason he kept hearing about it, and he needed to investigate the program, Teach for America, even further.
Falls, who is originally from Old Town, Maine, joined the Army and became a paratrooper, stationed at Fort Bragg with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division from November 2004 through November 2008. During his time in the Army he rose to the rank of sergeant. He was also deployed to Iraq in January 2007. While in Iraq, Falls spent 15 months in and around Baghdad.
During training for Teach for America he was placed in Mississippi for five weeks, and he also had a week of training here in North Carolina. He said that he spent a good portion of time in the classrooms teaching as well as working with his team of four other members. When he was in Mississippi he taught middle school language arts, working in a seventh-grade classroom. For Falls and those students, this summer school period was a time of intense learning, and the focus on learning was even higher for them because the students were at-risk.
“How well they did was a factor on whether they went to the next grade,” said Falls. “There was a lot of pressure involved.” With days starting at 5 a.m. and going to 6 to 7 p.m. for seminars and training, he felt the push to work with the students to learn and grow. Training focused on fundamentals of teaching, classroom management, and curriculum which are all needed for student and teacher success.
“The program did not have any unrealistic expectations,” said Falls. “It’s about doing the job, which is where you learn the most stuff.”
“I had no expectation that it was the end all, be all for what I needed to learn,” said Falls. “It was the first step in a long process.” That process is something that he is still working through with Teach for America, and he regularly attends weekend and day conferences so that he can continue developing the fundamental skills that he needs to be an effective teacher. One recent workshop that he attended focused on curriculum, and it was more in depth, he said. Education policy is also another hot button issue in education, particularly in regards to reform and also in using social media in the classroom.
Another topic was the school to prison pipeline and students who are in certain schools, like alternative schools, who have behavior related concerns and may be at risk. He said that the main focus of those types of seminars is discerning what is and is not working in the current system. It’s about the little details versus the bigger context and what can be done to improve deficiencies.
“It has been a huge challenge and I knew it was going to be,” said Falls. “To be entirely honest I knew it would be despite the fact that a lot of people thought it would be easy for me because of my military experience.”
“There is a lot of pressure when you educate 80 kids,” he added. “It’s a bigger challenge, and it’s scary.” Falls said that he feels good about it now, despite the initial anxiety.
Falls expressed being especially grateful for the team support that he has received, particularly from his veteran teachers.
“Those veteran teachers have been the biggest factor in my success,” explained Falls. “I have been very fortunate.” Despite some of this being extremely new to him and a long process, Falls has risen to meet the pressure to succeed even though it has been a huge challenge.
Falls graduated from Methodist University in Dec. 2012 with a bachelors of arts in Global Studies. Falls now teaches 8th grade language arts at Sampson Middle School. He lives in Fayetteville with his wife Shannon and two cats, Nana and Layla.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org