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A Teacher, a Friend, and a Mentor

I TAUGHT biology at Alcee Fortier Senior High School in New Orleans as part of the Teach for America program. Looking back on my first year of teaching, it is painfully evident that my children didn't learn everything I taught them. The success rate in my class wasn't nearly high enough, for whatever reasons - my inexperience, the school's lack of materials, or the students' home life. By some accounts, my time at Fortier could be considered a failure. My students did not learn everything they should have learned or deserved to learn. However, my time in the classroom wasn't wasted. By giving my time and energy I made a slight and positive change in the lives of my students. And my level of success will only improve next year. I am more familiar with lesson planning, the culture of the school, and, above all, discipline. I have had one year of experience and one summer of reflection to start a new year with. This is true for the rest of the returning Teach for America corps, too. For instance, a student of mine, Clayton Johns, was a great student from the first day - he made honorable mention in the state science literary rally. We got along well, talking about rap music, news, and "science phenomenon." He came back to my classroom at the end of the year, days after all the students had left and when the teachers were all but through cleaning out their rooms, just to be there and chat. He was a bright kid, and could have learned science from anyone, but we connected in a much str onger way - from which he benefited much more. The first-year corps members had their problems, as did the Teach for America organization. Despite its problems, the program's first year was a success. Despite my limitations, Teach for America helped the kids in my class at Fortier - in their naive and initially idealistic science teacher, they found a friend and a mentor. I think that's what really matters.

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