Before setting off to attend Cornell University this fall where she will pursue a M.P.A in public administration, Amanda Ward ’11 discussed the challenges of the Teach for America (TFA) program. Ward was accepted into TFA in the fall of 2011 and was assigned to the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, where she taught eighth graders for the past two years. She acknowledged that it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
Initially, she was shocked at how poor the urban public education system is and she was determined to do her part to improve it.
“It took a lot of time and effort spent planning engaging lessons and trying to make them relevant to my students, but I finally was able to get the students excited to come to class,” she said. “I think my proudest moment was when students started to get upset that they hadn’t scored 85 percent or higher on my tests and quizzes.”
At William Smith, Ward was a double major in international social justice (an individual major) and political science with a minor in English. She was also an active member in many clubs and organizations including the Social Justice Collective and Rotaract, and served on the board of Amnesty International, Students Activists for Darfur, and Americans for an Informed Democracy. She was the student organizer for HWS Votes for three years.
Ward noted that her time at HWS not only prepared her for TFA, but provided her with the leadership qualities necessary to thrive in the program.
“HWS really helped me to think outside of the box,” she said, adding that it aided her in putting a creative spin on forming engaging lesson plans for the students. “I don’t think I could have jumped into that position without the training I received while helping with different clubs and events at HWS.”
After Ward’s first year teaching, her history class grew by an astounding 40 percentage points and an additional 25 percentage points the following year. In her science and technology course she was able to enter her students in national competitions and compete at engineering day at University of Memphis. By the end of her second year teaching, almost all her students had plans to go to college and were already planning to start studying for their ACT she said.
“It was a lot of time, dedication and creative problem solving, but I was able to reach some of my kids and I hope in the coming years they will accomplish their dreams and know they can come to me for whatever help they might need.”
She was first inspired to join TFA after taking a class with Assistant Professor of Education Khuram Hussain, titled “Education Inequalities,” which was about race and class in education in America. Motivated by her readings and the class discussions, she knew that she wanted to help with the public education system in the country.
“I knew that if I wanted to truly affect change I needed to get experience in the communities and schools I wanted to help. I felt that TFA would allow me this experience and help me to better understand what I needed to do to help make a difference in policy work.”