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New Teachers, New Reasons for Why I Teach For China

makeshift auditorium.jpg

Dear Readers, over the past month, I've been leading Teach For China's summer training program for our newest teachers where we have everyone together for intensive pre-service training and summer school teaching. As it is every year, it is crazy-busy-but-awesomely-fun-and-reflective. During this period, my time was limited, as was the internet, electricity, hot water and wine. Over the next week or two, I'll be posting my reflections from Summer Institute.

If only I had done the math a little sooner, it wouldn't have come as quite the shock. This is the year where the newest group of Teach For China teachers were just 13 years old when I started as a middle school teacher. I could have chaperoned their junior high dance. Think about it.

This is also the year that the eighth graders I taught eight years ago on the Navajo Nation would have graduated from college and could have applied to Teach For America and other programs that I did as a 22-year-old.

Although I've lost touch with some of my students, only a few have graduated from college (a proud feat in itself, particularly given the statistics for Native American students with disabilities) and even fewer still, if any, would have been accepted into highly competitive programs like Teach For America and Teach For China if they wanted to apply.

I'm endlessly proud of the students I taught nearly a decade ago and who I stay in touch with through Facebook, text messages and visits back to New Mexico every few years - these are the same smelly, sweet, and generous teenagers who taught me more than anyone else about the power of grit, fearlessness and high expectations.

Yet, as I excitedly welcomed 201 of our newest Teach For China Teaching Fellows four weeks ago to Changning County in Yunnan Province--64 Americans and 137 Chinese-- to attend our Summer teacher training program, I couldn't help but look around the auditorium on the first day bitter-sweetly and wonder to myself what it would have meant if the students I taught eight years ago had a shot at being there doing what our Teaching Fellows are doing today.

After eight years in the field of education and working 70+ hour weeks, I'm getting tired. But last month, when I looked across that auditorium and had nearly 200 bright-eyed new teachers and more than 80 energized staff looking right back at me, I had yet one more reason to keep going.

Eight years from now, I want to look into that audience and see students we're teaching today sitting there as 2021 Teach For China Teaching Fellows. I want to know that the ones who chose to apply had a fighting shot of getting in. This is what I owe my eighth graders kids.

Photograph by Jessica Shyu

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