Reginald Kirby joined Teach For America-Milwaukee to make a difference in the classroom. As a black man, he wanted to show black and brown students that they can achieve their dreams.
The Kenosha native chose TFA-Milwaukee knowing about the city’s segregation problem, and said his goal is to spark hope in students through his teaching.
Kirby was part of the first regional institute this summer for Teach for America-Milwaukee, which teaches incoming corps members about opportunities and challenges in their new roles. Like Kirby, all corps members in the TFA-Milwaukee Institute will teach at schools in the city this academic year.
The summer institute partnered with MPS schools Greenfield Bilingual and Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education, where TFA corps members worked with students enrolled in summer programs. Every member was paired with an MPS teacher mentor.
“We thought it would be a wise investment,” said Walter Bond, executive director of TFA-Milwaukee. “It would give our folks here a head start learning from Milwaukee leaders and building relationships with Milwaukee students and learn our history here. This will make them a better teacher in the process.”
Bond explained that TFA is not a teacher pipeline, but a leadership organization. TFA alum often go on to work in different sectors.
The institute took several years to create and Bond said it will continue in future summers.
TFA is a national nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates to teach for at least two years at a public, charter or choice school in low-income communities. Members must complete several weeks of training at a TFA institute before they begin their jobs. Centralized training institutes are located in larger cities including Chicago, Houston and Atlanta.
“It (the Milwaukee Institute) also makes a compelling case for the folks who invest in our work. When you give dollars to TFA-Milwaukee, we are recycling those dollars in our community instead of Houston. We are Milwaukee tried and true from the bottom up,” Bond said.
“This expanded partnership provides professional development opportunities for veteran teachers and ground new talent from Teach For America in our mission and work earlier in their journey,” said Darienne Driver, MPS superintendent, in a press release.
In the institute, corps members learn the basics of teaching, including classroom management, lesson planning and building relationships with students, Bond explained. Many TFA members were not education majors in college, so the training gives them the skills to teach in a classroom, he added.
“The difference between the Milwaukee institute and other centralized locations is what they learn is highly contextualized,” said Bond. “Every member is paired with an MPS mentor teacher; those teachers aren’t just passing on general wisdom, those teachers are passing on knowledge about being a teacher in Milwaukee.”
The Milwaukee institute began in June and lasted seven weeks. In addition to MPS, other partners included Marquette University, Cardinal Stritch University and Alverno College, all of which trained members throughout the summer.
“In the morning they (members) teach four and half hours, and then in the afternoon and evening, they get workshops on pedagogy, strategies and best practices for teaching from TFA alum and university instructors,” said Michael Nguyen, senior managing director for TFA-Milwaukee.
More than 70 members were enrolled in the institute, Nguyen added. While many of them live in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin, corps members come from all over the United States.
Taylor Staples is a TFA corps member teaching seventh grade English Language Arts at Greenfield. Staples will teach English at Milwaukee Excellence Charter School.
Staples said that she was taught to approach students through a culturally relevant lens. “We are learning [to give] different students different care depending on their learning style. We think about who they are as people and the communities they come from and how that affects the classroom,” she added.
Kirby also taught English at Greenfield this summer. In the fall he will teach fifth-grade English at Milwaukee College Prep on Lloyd Street.
“We are learning a lot about making education relevant to the students, and we’re also learning a lot about classroom management and lesson planning,” he said.
Becca Armijo, a corps member advisor for TFA-Milwaukee and MPS teacher at Siefert Elementary School, trained members going into special education at Greenfield this summer.
“Something I’ve been focusing on with my corps members is holding high expectations (for themselves) and understanding their important role in education,” Armijo said. “I also work on the day-to-day realities of what it means to be a teacher,” including lesson planning and connecting with students. She added that teachers also have to be flexible, positive and open to students.
Chayce Cornett, who was a TFA special education corps member at Obama, worked with 15 students with different learning needs on geometry.
“I’ve always wanted to go into education policy, and I wanted to be in a school and community to understand what is actually happening,” Cornett said. “I wanted to see how policy-making decisions were affecting communities.”