Teach For America gives Juarez-Lincoln educator a way to give back to RGV

Maria Villalpando Lopez teaches English 1 for ninth graders and technical writing for grades 10th through 12th at La Joya Juarez-Lincoln High School. She is a 2018 corps member.

What motivated you to apply to join TFA in the RGV?

After graduating from high school, I left the Rio Grande Valley to pursue higher education at Texas A&M University. However, I always knew that I wanted to return to the RGV to give back to my community. At the time, I was not exactly sure how I was going to achieve that, but after learning about Teach For America, I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I have always been passionate about education, and in college, I developed a desire for social justice.

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

As an educator, one of the most surprising things is how much you learn from the students. At times it feels like I’m learning more from them; they teach me invaluable lessons. Their kind and selfless actions leave me feeling confident that our world is in good hands. It is an extremely humbling experience to know that as they are growing, you are too.

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

If I could change one thing for my students it would be for them to be able to see themselves through my lens. Often many of my students lack self-confidence, which stems from different reasons. For many of my students, throughout their lives they have been told — both indirectly and directly — that they are not enough. Subsequently, they have internalized this thought that they are not good enough because of where they come from or who they are. It saddens me because I know they are enough; they are more than enough. Each and every one of them has so much untapped potential waiting to erupt, and I wish they could see that.

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 is rooted in the belief that “one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” This does not happen overnight nor does it happen with one person. It takes a network of people to create systemic change, and Teach For America understands this. Yes, Teach For America enlists recent graduates to teach in public schools around the nation. However, the fight does not end there. Even if corps members leave the classroom, they continue to fight for educational equity, and this quality is what makes Teach For America special.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work as a corps member?

The most rewarding aspect of working as a corps member is knowing that you have made a difference in a child’s life. Having them tell you that because of you they now see life differently or they are thinking about going into a certain career creates an indescribable feeling.

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

When I met my students, I found out that many of them disliked reading; as an English teacher, this was somewhat disheartening. A few weeks ago, when we reached our poetry unit many of them expressed how they hated poetry because they didn’t get it. I went out to look for a poem they would enjoy and relate to, and I found The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac. Many of them were surprised to find out that was poetry. Later, I had them analyze the poem and tie the theme to their personal lives and many of them shared their personal struggles. After reading their stories, I was in awe at how much they have accomplished despite the obstacles they have faced. Their tenacity and vivaciousness is what makes teaching worthwhile.