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Teach for America (TFA) is the national nonprofit 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 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, fifty-one corps members work in seven districts across the region. Since 2003, through its sponsorship of the organization, Magic Valley Electric Cooperative has supported educators who teach within their service area. Here is a deeper look at one of those current teachers.
Brief Bio: Corps Year, Grade/Subject Taught, School
Howdy! My name is Vita A. Tijerina, and I am a proud Texas A&M University ‘20 alumna and Teach for America 2020 Corps Member. I am a 4th Grade Bilingual Reading teacher at J. S. Adame Elementary in Donna ISD.
What motivated you to apply to join Teach for America and choose to teach in the Rio Grande Valley?
Choosing the Rio Grande Valley was something that came naturally to me. It was all about giving back to the community that gave me everything. I am a proud native of Alamo, Texas. Being a Valley native, I know the potential students have to achieve any goal they set their mind to, and all it takes is people believing in them.
The bilingual culture here is extremely prominent, so growing up speaking both Spanish and English was something I never really found special, since I was surrounded by many people that were like me. It wasn’t until I left the (956) area for college when the culture clash hit me. I was always skeptical about the idea of culture clash, since I had lived in the RGV my whole life...but let me tell you, it is definitely a real thing. All of a sudden, I was being pointed out for speaking Spanish, and not only that, but apparently Valley natives also have their own accent. I found this very fascinating because it never crossed my mind that the Valley would have a distinct sound. ¡Puro (956)!
During my time in undergrad, I was able to become heavily involved in student organizations and met fellow RGV natives. It took leaving my home to realize how special it really was. The Valley has many hidden beauties, and its people are definitely one. The spirit and attitude that one draws from living here is very unique. I want to empower my students and show them that there is more to the world than just the RGV, but for some reason, you will always find yourself back here. You take what you give, and I know that this community has built the person I am today. Now, it’s time to pay it forward.
What was your experience like as a first-year educator during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Being an educator is a challenging yet rewarding experience, period. Many of my fellow first-time teachers, including myself, were not ready to enter the field during a pandemic, but nonetheless, we rolled with the punches. Through the constant support from TFA and Donna ISD, I have seen myself grow as an individual and educator. I have completely fallen in love with my students and often forget I get paid to do this every day. Rapidly learning the skill sets needed to teach and all of the behind-the-scenes meetings, paperwork, phone calls, etc. has been challenging, but not impossible.
Before starting in my position, I had imagined myself at the copy machine, preparing the class and homework for the week. But in reality, I have become an expert with Google Slides and Google Classroom. From constantly asking for students’ to “turn on your camera,” to them reminding me that I am on mute while giving instruction, it has been an experience I hold very close to my heart and something I will never forget. Neither will my students, since I will have been their very first virtual teacher.
The 2020-2021 academic school year will definitely be one for the books, and I am very proud to have formed part of it and continue to show the future of our country that, no matter what challenge we are faced with, we will always persevere and be successful.
What are your hopes and aspirations for next school year? For yourself and for your students?
This next school year will be another learning experience for myself, as well for every other teacher. We will be learning to implement in-person teaching while maintaining many of our virtual structures and resources. This might look like possibly having a hybrid classroom – teaching some students the traditional way (in-person), while still having students log into my class remotely. With more constant use of computers and laptops for work submission, it is harder for students to lose their homework and easier to turn in legible work. The uncertainty of how next year will be would usually scare me, but seeing how as a district, state, and country we have adapted and adjusted for our health and student needs, I have no doubt in my mind that it will be a good year. I want to teach my incoming fourth graders that despite what is happening around us, we cannot let it hinder our education. We must strengthen the concept of asking for help and support when we are in need of it. This is one of my main classroom guidelines...I am here to help you. I am here to help you become as successful as you allow yourself to be.
Querer es poder y con eso tendremos todo. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.