Almost 12 years ago, I showed up for a week-long course of professional development, one week before school started as a 21 year old, eager to teach middle school math at Paul Public Charter School. And when I knocked on the door, our lovely Office Administrator Ms. Taylor opened it and kindly said, “Honey, I’m sorry. School doesn’t start until next week.”

She thought I was a middle school student. 

This would be the start of the experience that defined the rest of my life. Working with a rock star team and a tremendous administration, I pushed through all the craziness that often happens in the first year, and focused on the goal. Teaching was my life…I woke up at 5:00am each morning because I knew Anthony would be there waiting for me in my classroom at 6:30, every morning, and I wouldn’t hear the end of it if he came for tutoring and I was even one minute late. We stayed after school where we put together our school’s first ever full-scale musical production (which have since been taken over by the Kennedy Center, and I guess they are doing a decent job).

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There were times where I felt so confident of my role in the process of closing the achievement gap. When I was asked to give a speech about motivation at our first All Corps meeting, I asked Anthony to come speak on my behalf. As a 9th grader who had been held back twice, but was actually twice as bright as almost anyone (including me), this was the start of a connection that has lasted over a decade.

Anthony is now 27 years old and will walk across the stage at Montgomery Community College with his Associate’s Degree in May 2016, and I know he will keep pushing forward.

But, there were also times when I realized how complex our students’ challenges were.

One of my brightest students was a victim of date-rape and became pregnant, she was not aware that she was pregnant through the majority of her pregnancy. After a successful labor and delivery, her son passed away less than one week later. I remember the way our school rallied around her and her family to raise money for memorial services.

I remember when 2 young boys got into a fight later that same day, and how our, ice-cold, behavior modification director recognized the pain in these two young men, and made the choice help them through their grief, rather than throw the hammer at them.

This taught me what it really meant to truly love your students.

And to top it off, I recently found out that DaJonna Richardson, one of my smartest, yet sassiest students recently completed Teach for America in my beloved D.C. Corps (2013) and continues to teach at her Southeast D.C. elementary school placement. I will have the chance to connect with her at the TFA25 Summit, and I can’t wait.

This…all of this, and so much more, is why I Teach for America.

Colin