The five foot nothing student teacher stood commandingly in front of the overused, dust stained, pail-green chalkboard. With a wag of her finger and a stern “Eyes on me,” Miss Gilbert—as her students call her—turned the heads of five, 12-year-old children.
“Miss Gilbert!” one of the little boys responded with a long, ringing shout as he launched his hand in the air. “Will you help me with this word?”
“Of course,” Tiana Gilbert replied in a soft, compassionate tone. With the undivided attention necessary for anyone’s early education, Gilbert helped Brycen pronounce, “erode.” This intense concentration is impressive, considering that less than 36 hours earlier, the 21-year-old Wittenberg senior learned that she had earned a position in one of the nation’s most competitive and prestigious post-undergraduate teaching programs—Teach for America (TFA).
TFA is a highly selective program, annually drawing in nine percent of all seniors at Ivy League schools. So far in 2012, about 48,000 individuals have applied and only 5,800 will be selected, an acceptance rate of about 12 percent—the normal rate according to TFA’s website. Those selected are assigned classes anywhere between fourth and 12th grade in some of the nation’s lowest-income schools. These “core members”—as TFA refers to them—spend two years in their classrooms to fulfill the organization’s goal: “ensure the 16 million American children that face the extra challenges of poverty get an excellent education.”
Even though Gilbert will be a freshman TFA core member, she is no stranger to teaching in low-income areas. For the past three years, Gilbert has participated in a teaching program at Perrin Woods, an elementary school situated in one of the highest-poverty rated school district in Springfield. This program is managed by the Hagen Center for Civic Engagement and allows Wittenberg student-employees to gain in-classroom experience by creating and teaching afterschool programs for third through sixth grade kids. Gilbert started working in Perrin Woods her sophomore year and has since spent six school semesters and three summers in the large, industrial-like, gray-brick building.
For Gilbert, her time spent at Perrin Woods has been much more than a student employment job. Perrin Woods has granted her both a dynamic learning experience of her own as well as the chance to pass on a priceless gift.
“I learn so much from my students,” Gilbert explained. “I’ve probably learned more from them, both personally and teaching wise, than they’ve learned from me.”
Gilbert starts her summer training with TFA in May—only one week after she graduates. It is not surprising that after this late Friday evening interview, Gilbert strolled/marched over to the library to complete lesson plans for Monday. Even though she has been accepted into one of the most prestigious teaching programs in the nation, according to Gilbert—there is still much work to be done.