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Teach for America (TFA) is the national non-profit organization committed to the idea that one day, all children will attain an excellent education. To this end, the organization partners with communities to inspire and co day, all children will attain an excellent education. To this end, the organization the next generation of leaders to address unequal educational opportunities that fall along the lines of race and class. They begin this lifelong work with an initial two-year commitment to teach in some of the nation’s most underserved schools. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, 61 corps members work in 7 districts across the region.
Jeff Bauer is a 2017 TFA corps member who is a RISE (self-contained special education) high school teacher at IDEA San Juan College Prep. He was motivated to join the movement for educational equity at the start of his career. He shares, “After graduating from college and joining Teach for America’s staff, I decided I wanted to have a more direct impact, and the best way to do that was to enter the classroom.”
We asked Jeff a few questions about his work in education:
If you could change one thing for your students, what would it be?
I would create a more inclusive educational environment with greater opportunities made available to them. I think our school and district are constantly seeking ways to further incorporate our RISE students into the mainstream education setting, but it is more of a constant process than a set destination. I don’t know when or if there is a place or time when a school will be fully integrated, but I believe that should always be a focus for everyone involved in the community.
At a time when more people recognize the inequity of education in public schools, Teach for America has an important role to play.
What do you view as Teach for America’s role in creating systemic change?
Teach for America plays a large role in dismantling the inequity that exists in schools all across America in several ways. They excel in finding diverse teachers who are passionate about creating a more equitable community for themselves and their students. The rate of educator burnout is the highest it has ever been. Educators are leaving their jobs, creating a dire need for teachers across the entire country. Teach for America finds recent college graduates and other professionals who are excited about entering the field. They are excited to make an impact and to work with other educators, the school administration, and the community to improve outcomes for their students. The Teach for America network, which includes current corps members as well as alumni, believes that education is a tangible way to disrupt the various forms of inequity that continue to exist.
Can you share an anecdote or personal experience from your classroom or school?
A favorite memory is seeing my students compete in Special Olympics. Watching them prepare and then compete with so much motivation and passion has been a highlight of my time as a special education teacher. Last week in soccer in our first game, our team held a 1-0 lead until late in the game, when our opponent tied the game at one. Both teams were playing Unified, meaning we had lineups of 3 Special Olympics athletes and 2 Unified Partners or general education peers. With one minute to go, we had a corner kick, and one of our athletes shot the ball on net and forced their goalie to make a save. Another one of our players crashed the net, saw the rebound land on his foot and put the ball into the net top shelf to give us the 2-1 win as time expired. Our athletes were all jumping around and congratulating each other in pure joy, while the parents and other coaches on our sidelines couldn’t believe what they just saw. That moment highlights what Special Olympics is and means to our families, teachers, and school community. We would go on to win our second game 6-2, to bring home the gold medal.
Magic Valley has been a supporter of the Teach for America program since 2003. During that time, they have sponsored numerous local educators who have expanded opportunities for students in our region’s most high-need schools. Past teachers they have sponsored include teachers of the year, teachers who brought new advanced placement courses to a school, and educators who have gone on to become administrators and impact thousands of children in their career. Additionally, Teach for America members help promote the Magic Valley Electric Co-op scholarship program among teachers and encourage students to take advantage of this educational opportunity.