Have you ever wondered what it would be like to teach in one of America's toughest schools? Have you ever complained that your job is tough? In Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America, journalist Donna Foote takes us into one of the worst schools in the nation, Locke High School in South Los Angeles. The reader becomes deeply involved in the struggles and triumphs of four real first-year Teach For America Corps members, Rachelle, Philip, Hrag, and Taylor. Can they survive—physically as well as emotionally—a year of gang bangers, dropouts, and lockdowns?
The Teach for America program recruits the top graduating college students and sends them to an intensive summer boot camp for teaching licensure. The new teachers are sent to the lowest performing schools in the US and are expected to improve test scores. The point of Teach for America is to close the educational achievement gap between wealthy and poor schools.
With only a few weeks training, no specialization in their field, and no prepackaged lesson plans, the new teachers face students who are more likely to drop out or get killed than go to college. "This job is overwhelming," Taylor told her fellow teacher Hrag. She was struggling through the first semester and seriously considering calling it quits. "Taylor, you're one of the strong ones," Hrag replied, "You can't break. We'll all break. You have to hold it together. It's not a competition. Are you still here? Then give yourself a little credit."
Donna Foote's nonfiction account of life as a TFA teacher is inspiring as well as disconcerting. It is inspiring to know that good teachers—those with a true drive and determination to better the lives of their students—can make a real difference. It is disconcerting to see that schools as bad as Locke still exist, schools where a deaf child can be put in a class with no aide and where high school students don't even know how to read.
This is a must read for educators and everyone who is concerned about the state of education in America.
Donna Foote is a freelance journalist and a former Newsweek correspondent. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with her husband and son. Relentless Pursuit is her first book.
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