How the Teaching Fellowship Led Me to My Passion

Lindy Smalt is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the Garfield Middle School in Revere, MA. Following completion of the Fellowship, she will be joining the Teach For America Corps. The Teaching Fellow application deadline has been extended to May 18th.  Two years ago, I was a Wheaton College senior. I was undoubtedly one of the coolest kids on campus. I was a Theatre major, automatically mysterious and deep. Lindy was my name, and self-assurance was my game.

And yet there was that constant, dreadful feeling in the back of my mind—what was I going to do after May? What if the rest of the world wasn’t caught up on how cool I was? What was I going to do without my immense sense of purpose and popularity?

I got very, very lucky—I stumbled upon a job in education.

Now, let me be clear: When I faxed back the signed offer letter to Citizen Schools, I thought the Teaching Fellowship was going to be a two-year break for me to figure out what my “real job” would be.

That couldn’t have been less true. I might have been a rock star at Wheaton, but nothing, not even my 25-credit semester, could have prepared me for the incredibly demanding work of teaching in one of our nation’s low-income communities.

Once obsessed with political philosophizing, I was shocked to find that teaching in a public school was the first time I wasn’t just ranting about politics—I was living them. A single forty-minute lesson at Garfield Middle School reflected so many of our nation’s struggles, from the prison system, to immigration, to the drug war. In two years, I taught an Iraqi refugee, the daughter of a murderer, a boy who saw his parents murdered, a boy who got expelled for drug possession, a girl who spoke an unheard of African dialect—and these people were eleven. Through their lives, their absent parents, their complete apathy towards school, I saw—for the first time—the necessity of my work and of my life, and the true depth of our nation’s struggles.

“When we are very old,” said one of my student’s mothers to me this year, in half-Arabic and broken English, as she placed her hand on mine, “we will always think of Ms. Smalt. We will say, ‘Ms. Smalt is the one who changed everything. She was the start of a new life.”’ She and her son, Abdellah, do not have a computer or a car; they walk to the local library to use the internet. Yet with her support, Abdellah’s unparalleled perseverance, and my resources in the community, we were able to secure a spot for her son in the high-performing charter school in the next town, as well as garner a $2500 grant for him to attend summer camp for the first time.

Students like Abdellah have all of the skills to succeed in college and beyond, but often there is no one to show them the way. He is small and gets swallowed in large classes of screaming, sassy pre-teens. But he is diligent, positive, and extremely kind, and he deserves a chance. And there are millions more like him.

Consider Abdellah. Consider being that transformative teacher in his community. Consider a career in education.

The Teaching Fellow application deadline has been extended to May 18th. Apply today!

Ask any question you have about the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship in the comments below!