Teach For America Worker: 'This Is The Toughest Job I've Ever Had'

Bobby Edenfield

Photo: Bobby Edenfield

Teach For America recently ranked No. 70 on Fortune’s annual 100 Best Companies to Work For list. The program, which enlists recent college grads to teach in low-income neighborhoods across the U.S., is tough work.

Just ask Bobby Edenfield, a 24-year-old teacher in a neighbourhood right outside Washington, D.C.

“It’s definitely hard and stressful, but I love teaching,” he tells us. “It makes a big difference in the lives of these kids.”

Edenfield didn’t plan on becoming a teacher. But after a spring break trip to D.C., where he learned of the area’s staggeringly low education rates, he changed his mind. “It’s so intense, especially the planning, but I never thought I would love being a teacher as much as I do,” he says. “It’s a big time commitment and is the most life-changing experience I’ve had.”

Edenfield offered to take a camera around with him for a day and document what it’s really like as a Teach For America employee.

I wake up at 5 a.m., before the sun rises. My apartment window overlooks Maryland Ave., just blocks from Capitol Hill

After a quick workout to keep me on my toes for the day, I arrive at Imagine Foundations II, a public charter school outside D.C., at 6:45 a.m.

The first thing I do when I come in is set up my interactive StarBoard. I load up ClassDojo, a behaviour system that is very useful in behaviour tracking, and all documents I need for the day

This morning my first-grader Jordyn and her mother stopped by for a quick chat before the bell

It's 8:30 a.m. and my classroom of 25 students arrive. We promptly begin our character development block. My homeroom students — I call them the Super-Stars — and I are discussing segregation. The kids are really bright: One student pointed out that I wouldn't be their teacher during segregation

At 9:00 a.m., our review concepts maths meeting begins. The kids take turns leading the class

At 9:20 a.m. we do quick practice drills. Jade and D'Angelo are working hard on their fact practice

At 10:00 a.m. we review the new concept with students while they rotate through centres. In this picture you can see Mrs. Nnamani, an assistant teacher, working with the Florida Gators. I like to name the different groups after SEC football teams

Andre, Cameron, and Kelise are at our computer centre working on lesson-aligned activities. Kids learn technology really fast. I only had to train a couple of them

At 10:30 a.m. we begin our science block. Today the students are drawing diagrams of their terrariums in their science journals

At 11:00 a.m. it is lunchtime! I am eating with Sania, Aria, Sabira, and Jamari today and quizzing them on their addition facts. If you couldn't guess, the sum of their problem was 10. I typically always eat with my students

At 11:30 a.m. we have recess and the kids get a chance to play and release some energy. Here, Charles, Christopher, Jadon, and D'Angelo are playing a game of basketball

At 11:45 a.m. it's time to return to our maths studies. I feel really lucky this year that the kids are so great. Last year, I had 36 kids and I had to learn really quickly about behaviour management

Kennedy is teaching our review concepts. In this picture she is leading the students in coming up with addition and subtraction number sentences that equal 100

The Super-Stars get to learn new material today: addition with regrouping

At 1:00 p.m. the Super-Stars go to physical education class and I get a chance to grade papers, input grades into my tracker, and take a break. I wouldn't be able to live without Microsoft Excel

At 1:45 p.m. I pick up the Super-Stars from P.E. The kids at our school are expected to wear uniforms. If they can't afford them, there are vouchers available. The first school I taught at was public, but not chartered, and the kids there were expected to wear uniforms as well

At 2:30 p.m. it's time to pack up and get ready for dismissal. Before the students pack up, I input their behaviour score for the day into their character agendas

From 2:40 to 3:05 p.m. I'm outside helping with dismissal. I use a walkie-talkie to call for children as their parents arrive. Here, Kyle, Khalil and their mother say goodbye. The parents are usually supportive and, in my experience, put in as much time as they can

After school, Ms. McMillan, Mrs. Zitofksy, and I meet to plan curriculum, review notes and come up with engaging ways to motivate the students

It's almost 4:00 p.m. and Ms. Coley and I are preparing letters to be sent home for students to sign up for tutoring

After my meetings I prepare for a couple of hours for the next day

Before I leave for the day I update our assessment tracker. These are posted outside so we can show the entire school what great growth we are achieving. All students are given a number instead of a name for privacy reasons

It's 6:29 p.m. and I'm finally home! For the rest of the night, I'll pack my lunch for the next day and hang out with my roommates

My roommates Keenan and Laura are also Teach For America corps members. We met at the TFA orientation in D.C. and decided to live together. It's been great to have the support even though their experiences are a lot different than mine: Keenan teaches middle school and Laura teaches high school

It's 9:07 p.m. and time for bed. It's another full day tomorrow!

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