Shortly after earning my bachelor’s, I felt a tremendous urgency to join the fight against the achievement gap by becoming this battle’s strongest soldier: a teacher. I stepped into the inner-city Detroit classroom that I would call home for my first year of teaching as a Teach for America corps member. I came to appreciate the notion that the quality of our classroom and resources does not define who we are nor does it devalue our learning experiences.
However, it wasn’t until I had asked my students to create life-maps to project where they saw themselves in their futures that I realized they did not partake in a similar awareness. “When I turn 18, I can collect food stamps for my family” littered their assignments and dreams. My students allowed their environment and circumstances to delineate their reality. Consequently, higher education and better opportunities were never a possibility within their limited line of sight.
As an educator, my mission became to help my students fully realize their potential by broadening the range of their self-expectations. However, having only five weeks of actual training in education prior to becoming a classroom teacher, I felt inadequate to help these students onto a path of higher education. It was on a self-defeated afternoon that I noticed an advertisement asking: “Want to be a better teacher?” That link led me to the MAT@USC.
While any Trojan can vouch for the superior education this program provides aspiring and current teachers, its true merit lies in the cohort system. Never mind the fact that they were only pixels and frequencies, these select professors and classmates that I saw three times a week on my desktop became my greatest support and lifelong friends. They advised me when I felt lost and fortified me when I was overwhelmed. Most importantly, they never judged my lack of experience and alternative certification. They are a constant reminder that I am not alone, that, as a Trojan family, we are in this mission together to fight educational inequity.
As a first-year teacher, I was initially hesitant to go beyond my classroom. Yet with reinforcement from MAT@USC, I established Detroit Public School’s first-ever “8th Grade Mock Interview Event,” where directors, principals and members of admission boards from various high schools and universities of the greater Detroit area were invited to practice interview skills with my 8th graders. During that one night, my students held their heads high with confidence in three-piece suits and button-up blouses, indistinguishable from their more affluent suburban peers by transforming themselves into aspiring professionals. Many continuously ran back to me begging for another interview opportunity, another chance to exhibit that they were far more exceptional and outstanding than society gave them credit for.
Incredulously, the boundaries between mock and real interviews became blurred that night as my students captivated their interviewers with this passion. Many were instantly accepted into some of Detroit’s most prestigious high schools and university-run summer programs. It was this drive and absolute starvation for unbound success that I had only dreamed of empowering my students with.
While MAT@USC has provided grounds for being successful within the classroom, I, like my 182 under-served but determined Detroit students, have a deeper longing to seek further scholarship to give back to the city that I now call home. Thanks to the undying faith from my Trojan brethren, who believed in me when no one else did, I will be joining another incredible cohort of 15 USC scholars this fall semester in pursuit of our Ph.D. in Urban Education Policy.
I charge forward with the mission that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, should have equal access to a quality school, where the value of one’s education and potential for success is not determined by the five digits of their zip-code. College needs to be made a priority and relevant to not only Detroit’s youth, but to all the children in this nation. This should be the standard that we hold our children to — we should never expect any less.
It is with the greatest honor to be a lifelong Trojan and combat the achievement gap alongside my brave-hearted Trojan family. Fight On!