OPINION
Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Teach for America’s academy helps prepare teachers to be leaders

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I have been a teacher, mostly in kindergarten, for the past 10 years in Idaho public schools. For most of that time I thought teaching was my forever career, until the opportunity to mentor other educators began to change my thinking.

This year, I am participating in Teach for America’s Rural School Leadership Academy, which helps prepare educators outside urban areas to take on leadership positions in their schools and districts. That can mean being a teacher-leader or mentor, an instructional coach, a building administrator, or even a superintendent.

How I came to this place in my career journey has shown me how important it is to expand potential avenues for strong teachers to use their expertise to nurture students and other educators alike. If we had more programs like RSLA, perhaps more teachers would remain in education for their entire careers, as leadership opportunities open before them.

My connection to TFA began three years ago, when my principal at MOSAICS charter school asked me to mentor an incoming corps member who was fresh out of college. For several years, other teachers had been coming to me for advice and counsel, and had been observing my classroom, because I seemed to have an ability to have smooth transitions and create an orderly and joyful environment.

Leadership through mentoring and coaching wasn’t my original plan when I went into teaching. But along the way, people I looked up to kept telling me I had a lot to offer other teachers. The more I heard that, the more I believed that perhaps it was true.

MOSAICS opened during the height of Covid in 2020. I taught online from within the building, but other teachers had in-person classes. Several teachers invited me to visit their classrooms and offer feedback. I was happy to do this, and I believe I had a lot to offer. But this was an informal arrangement.

After mentoring Cassedy, the TFA corps member, through MOSAICS’ mentoring system during her first year, I was invited by TFA to join its new mentoring program for Cassedy’s second year.

TFA’s mentoring program was more formal, including professional development, regular check-ins with supervisors to strengthen my mentoring practice, and a stipend to compensate me for my time. I found that I loved mentoring a young teacher. Cassedy’s passion rubbed off on me, and my ability to guide her, even through tough conversations, helped her grow as a teacher before my eyes.

The experience of working closely with Cassedy really got me thinking about how I could spend more time mentoring and coaching other teachers, ideally while still teaching young children as well. So when Casey DeFord at TFA told me about RSLA, it seemed like a great opportunity for me to pursue.

RSLA is a national TFA program, which means I get to interact with and learn from educators in several states. The program will conclude next spring with a week where we all gather in-person. Before that, I will have an opportunity to travel to a rural district in another state – to be determined – that is doing exciting work under challenging circumstances.

Meanwhile, I will soon start coursework toward  my principal’s endorsement, taking online classes through Idaho State University. TFA has provided a generous scholarship, allowing me to enroll in this program without adding significantly to my already burdensome student debt.

I love my school, and would ideally stay at MOSAICS in a coaching role. But RSLA and my upcoming principal endorsement classwork is opening my eyes to a world of other possible opportunities.

I am grateful to all of the people who have mentored me, and to those I have mentored. Most of all, I am grateful to TFA for having provided me with these leadership opportunities, which I hope will allow me to share my modest gifts with a larger group of Idaho educators.

Michelle Salas

Michelle Salas

Michelle is a kindergarten teacher and mentor at Mosaics Public School in Caldwell.

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