Taking a different path into the classroom

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It was a long journey for me to become a Fort Worth Teaching Fellow. After graduating from college, I was unsure what path I wanted to pursue. I moved to Spain, spent two years teaching and traveling, and returned to New York still lacking a calling.

I ended up working as a nanny because I love kids, but I knew that I should be doing something bigger.

After reading about Geoffrey Canada's creation of The Harlem Children's Zone to guarantee children in his community a great education, I realized that I didn't want to be in a nursery helping two children. I wanted to teach in a high-need school where I could help dozens of students every year.

That's what brought me home to Texas. That's why I'm a Fort Worth Teaching Fellow.

Fort Worth Teaching Fellows is an alternative certification program operated in partnership between Fort Worth school district and The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a national nonprofit working to ensure that all students get excellent teachers.

As I learned about the rigorous training and hands-on support FWTF provides to prepare career changers and recent grads for the classroom, I knew the program would enable me to make a real difference for my students.

I submitted my application for a bilingual position, boxed up my apartment and hoped that somewhere along the drive back to Texas I would win a place in the selective program. As I crossed the state line on the last leg of my journey, I got a message congratulating me on my acceptance.

The summer was packed with lesson planning, intensive training in real classrooms and helpful feedback that fast-tracked me to the day I greeted my bilingual first-graders at Clifford Davis Elementary School.

FWTF gave me a concentrated dose of what I would need to be a great teacher from day one and the incredible opportunity to put my students on a path to success.

The coaching staff taught me how to grab and hold students' attention so we can focus on what really matters. I use these skills every day -- in the classroom, in the halls and on the playground.

But the biggest thing I learned from FWTF is the "joy factor," which has transformed my classroom and overtaken my students. They are not simply willing to listen; they love learning.

We do a cheer before math. We sing syllables during language arts. We present work and applaud for friends. When someone struggles and starts to "get it," the whole class pauses to recognize their achievement. We shout " Fabuloso!" or cheer "g-double-o-d j-o-b." It's infectious.

There is never a day that I arrive at work and ask, "Why am I here?" My students are my purpose, and I can't imagine another job where one's purpose is so meaningful.

As the first semester closed, I asked my students to write the favorite thing they had learned on a strip of paper. Whether they wrote about making weather charts, counting by fives or creating a map of a "fantasy" island, it was clear I'd made an impact on their lives.

I took those strips and created a chain that hangs in my classroom. As we add "learning links" weekly, students know they are getting closer to second grade, high school and a future enriched by learning.

For me, this is just the beginning. As a Fort Worth Teaching Fellow, I will continue to change lives, one classroom and one school year at a time.

Stephanie Wallace teaches in a bilingual first-grade classroom at Clifford Davis Elementary School and is a 2012 Fort Worth Teaching Fellow. fortworthteachingfellows.org

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