TFA educator at IDEA challenges her students with higher standards

Teach for America (TFA) is the national nonprofit organization committed to the idea that one day, all children will attain an excellent education. To this end, the organization partners with communities to inspire the next generation of leaders to address unequal educational opportunities that fall along the lines of race and class. They begin this lifelong work with an initial two-year commitment to teach in some of the nation’s most underserved schools. In this series, we spotlight corps members and alumni working with students in the Valley.

Krystal Evans is a first-year TFA corps member teacher at IDEA Pharr College Preparatory, where she teaches eighth grade Pre-AP English Language Arts.

What motivated you to apply to join Teach For America and choose to teach in the Rio Grande Valley?
As a first-generation college student, the only time I saw people of color in a professional setting was when I went to school. Every day I walked into a building where my teachers, administrations and other staff looked exactly like me. I feel fortunate in having had this experience because it made me believe that their roles and levels of professionalism were attainable. When I look at some school systems today, I do not consistently see that representation for students. It is necessary for students of color to see people that represent their demographic in positions of power so that they know it is possible for them as well. This belief is what prompted me to join Teach For America.

What has been one of the most surprising things you’ve come to learn about education during your time as a classroom leader?
What has been most surprising for me as a teacher, is witnessing the standards that we hold our students to. When I look at my curriculum, I sometimes think “This is it? This is all they have to do?” Our children are so bright, and the rigor of the curriculum does not always highlight their true potential. How we prepare students now will very much influence the way of the world in the upcoming years, and it is important that we not underestimate what their minds are capable of. I do my best to increase the rigor of my content daily so that my students can practice higher level thinking skills that they will need in the real world.

If you could change one thing for your students, what would it be?
If I could change one thing for my students, I would add more electives during the day. Eighth grade at IDEA Pharr is a challenging year, as our students prepare for four STAAR exams and one AP exam. With all of the academic pressure, it would be wonderful if they had more electives in place so that students have outlets of expression. I would love for them to be able to choose their electives, as not every student is good at art or PE and they may not be able to express themselves as easily in assigned electives. It is important to me that they have these outlets of expression so that their minds continue to develop in a healthy way.

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?
The role of Teach For America is to ensure that they place adequate professionals in the classroom to support our students. We must ensure that our students are not only getting teachers who know the content, but also empathetic beings that recognize them as people first and can commit to providing a better education for them and consistently advocating for their educational equity.

Can you share an anecdote or personal experience from your classroom or school?
The most rewarding part of teaching for me is seeing how my students have developed into empathetic, considerate beings. I always tell them, “You may not always be good at all subjects. But what you can always be good at is being kind to others.” This year I have been able to teach them the importance of mental health and how essential it is for them to be considerate in tone so that they are sensitive to the feelings of others. I have watched them grow all year into people who consider one another’s feelings and effortlessly educate one another on empathy and kindness. I wake up every day looking forward to going to a place where I know I am helping not only good students, but good people.