Education Spotlight: Educator joined Teach For America to promote education equity

Jeff Bauer is a 2017 TFA corps member who is a RISE (self-contained special education) high school teacher at IDEA San Juan College Prep.

What motivated you to apply to join Teach For America and choose to teach in the Rio Grande Valley?

I spent time during college and after trying to promote education equity through various organizations such as City Year, Teach First and even Teach For America. After working on Teach For America’s staff for two years after college, I decided I wanted to have a more direct impact and the best way to do that was to enter the classroom.

What has been one of the most surprising things you’ve come to learn about education during your time as a classroom leader?

I am most surprised by how much students will surprise you. Even though I think every teacher would say something similar, it does not make it any less true. Students are capable of so much and sometimes even as a teacher, you fail to realize just how much they can accomplish.

If you could change one thing for your students, what would it be?

I would create a more inclusive educational environment with greater opportunities made available to them. I think our school and district is constantly seeking ways to further incorporate our RISE students into the mainstream education setting, but it is more of a constant process than a set destination. I don’t know when or if there is a place or time when a school will be fully integrated but I believe it should always be a focus for everyone involved in the community.

At a time when more people recognize the inequity of education in public schools, Teach For America has an important role to play. What do you view as Teach For America’s role in creating systemic change?

Teach For America plays a large role in dismantling the inequity that exists in schools all across America in several ways. They excel in finding diverse teachers who are passionate about creating a more equitable community for themselves and their students. The rate of educator burnout is the highest it has ever been. Educators are leaving their jobs creating a dire need for teachers across the entire country. Teach For America finds recent college graduates and other professionals who are excited about entering the field. They are excited to make an impact and to work with other educators, the school administration, and the community to improve outcomes for their students. The Teach For America network, which includes current corps members as well as alumni, believe that education is a tangible way to disrupt the various forms of inequity that continue to exist.

Can you share an anecdote or personal experience from your classroom or school?

Your community is your best resource as a teacher. Community includes your fellow teachers. It includes your school community. It includes the greater community such as the Valley. Everyone in the community is invested in your success because when you succeed, your students succeed. I am fortunate to have the support of Teach For America, my administration, the parents and families I work with, and the other six in-credible and passionate teachers in our RISE unit at IDEA San Juan. You should never feel as if it’s up to you and only you, because it’s not. While everyone in this community is important, it is the six teachers around me who have impacted me the most. Working alongside such passionate educators in our RISE unit brings out the best in me and allows me to the best teacher I can be for my students every day.