Samantha Alday Almanza is a 2020 Teach For America corps member currently teaching sixth grade math at IDEA Mission.
What motivated you to apply to join Teach For America and choose to teach in the Rio Grande Valley?
When I was a student, I was very fortunate to have great teachers. I can recall many teachers from elementary school all the way to college that inspired and motivated me to become an educator. Their drive to make all their students successful was admirable.
I knew for a long time that I wanted to be an educator; however, it took a bit of self-motivation and a lot of hard work, family support, and the thoughts of me wanting to be a good example for my daughters to get through college. Once that was accomplished, I started working as a substitute at IDEA Public Schools and that sparked more interest in my goals. One day while substituting, I met a teacher who talked to me about TFA and how I should consider applying. That same day I researched and applied and now am happily a part of the organization.
I chose to teach in the Rio Grande Valley because the culture in our community is special. Once the students can relate to a teacher, a connection is established and a life-long relationship is formed.
What has been one of the most surprising things you’ve come to learn about education during your time as a classroom leader?
One of the most surprising things I’ve come to learn about education during my time in the classroom is that although mastering my content is critical, it does not outweigh the importance of relationship-building and truly caring for the wellbeing of my students and co-workers.
Having my daughters enrolled in the same school where I teach gives me the opportunity to understand and empathize with what the students go through daily. The students trust me and tell me their stories, even when they are not feeling their best.
Building a strong relationship with my colleagues has been a great experience through which I’ve received support, guidance, and feedback that has helped me with my confidence in the classroom.
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 the time that they were learning virtually instead of being in-person on campus. The loss of social interaction, compounded with the stress of the pandemic, was difficult for them, and I’m happy that we’re in-person this year. I’ve also implemented a few strategies to support my students as they get used to being in school. During homeroom I make sure to check in with each student daily as they come in to make sure they’re adjusting. I also assigned buddies to the new students so they automatically had a friend and didn’t feel like they were jumping into a whole new world. During math class, we also started using a strategy called ‘Think, Pair, Share’ where the students work side by side with a classmate; this has helped enormously with their social skills, and they’re slowly building back their confidence as a team.
What lessons are you learning now that will help you continue to work toward educational equity in the future?
Right now, I’m learning how to build relationships and be an advocate for our students, and this will help me work towards educational equity in the future. In addition, continuing my education and development to become a knowledgeable educator will also be beneficial to ensuring my students succeed. My goal is to grow in the education field, and I aspire to eventually become an academic counselor so that I can be a positive guide to our students and make sure they go to and through college while feeling supported.
Can you share an anecdote or personal experience from your classroom or school?
Last year I taught 9th grade Geometry, and about 90% of the students were virtual. Given that, I always questioned whether I had truly built relationships with them. However, this year, most of my former students come in daily to my new classroom just to say hello, and some parents are still in contact with me. That shows me that whatever we do in the classroom, no matter the setting, doesn’t go unnoticed.
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. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, 61 corps members work in seven districts across the region.