To the Editor:
I’ve known what I wanted to be when I grew up since I was in first grade. That year, I performed in my first musical as Cute Chick #3 in our class production of “Ee‐I‐Ee‐I‐Oops.” It was a strange little show about Old MacDonald and it made me fall in love with the stage. From that point forward, there has not been a time in my life when I wasn’t rehearsing a show, getting ready for an audition, or working through a run.
That is, until two summers ago, when I needed to make some extra money and got a job as a substitute teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools. When I stepped into the classroom there, everything changed.
The students in my class were bright and talented, but they had so many fewer resources and supports than my classmates and I had gotten at our school five minutes down the road. They faced barriers that my friends and I had never dealt with, and as a result were far less equipped than we were to thrive in school.
This struck me as resoundingly unfair, and I knew I had to do something. I thought back on my own time in school, trying to figure out what it was about my time in school that had helped me succeed. One answer jumped to mind immediately: my teachers.
My third grade teacher, Jennifer Lambert, balanced a successful teaching career with actively performing in local community theatre. She taught me to pursue all of the things I love without compromise. She gave me incredible leadership opportunities growing up, including my earliest choreography experiences.
Jason Linck, my fifth and sixth grade teacher, exemplified holding high standards for his students. He never permitted anything less than our best and created a classroom culture where we deeply believed anything was possible.
Jennifer Knox, my assistant principal in high school, poured her heart into her students in a way I’d never seen in an administrator. Ms. Knox supported students in all of our extracurriculars and in all of our academic tracks. She worked incredibly hard to make our school a better place to learn.
Those teachers were fundamental in my success, and I’ll never be able to pay back all that they made possible for me. But I can pay it forward.
That’s why, after graduating from James Madison University in the spring, I’m becoming a teacher through Teach For America, a program that enlists recent grads and career‐switchers to teach in high‐need communities. When I enter the classroom next fall, I will strive every day to develop my kids into leaders like Mrs. Lambert; create a culture of empowerment and ambition like Mr. Linck; and give my students all of my heart just like Ms. Knox.
I know the work will be hard, but I also know the progress will be powerful and rewarding. So whether you’re looking to make a bigger impact yourself or know someone who is, consider teaching. Together, we can give our kids the futures they deserve.
Elizabeth Garcia is a 2012 graduate of West Springfield High School and a current senior at James Madison University where she studies Music Theatre. In the fall of 2016 she will be teaching K‐12 Music in Arkansas. To apply to teach, visit www.teachforamerica.org/apply.