On The Front Line: A Day in the Life of a DCPS Teacher

written by Matt Repka, corps member on the Serve DC Team serving at Johnson Middle School

City Year Washington, DC serves in 14 of the highest-need District of Columbia Public Schools, where corps members work full-time to address the dropout crisis in American education by working as tutors, mentors and role models. But corps members are hardly alone in their fight. Every day across the District, teachers, administrators and other educators work to turn around the lowest-performing schools and close the achievement gap. This is one such story.

Ms. Wallin is a 7th grade teacher at J. Hayden Johnson Middle School

Johnson Middle School isn’t a household name in the District of Columbia. Online, the school doesn’t have much of a presence – search engines return a handful of school profiles and test data interspersed with articles on the school’s former principal. Within the neighborhood, many passersby – such as those shopping at the nearby Giant grocery store on Alabama Avenue – say they’ve never heard of the place.

For those who do know Johnson, the reviews aren’t always glowing. The numbers are less than satisfying – 17% proficient in math on last year’s DC CAS, 18% proficient in English. The school is far under enrolled relative to the size of its facilities, and attendance and behavior are chronic issues.

Amid the gloom, very real positive signs manifest themselves. Johnson was just awarded a School Improvement Grant through 2014 and City Year Washington, DC, began a new partnership with Johnson this year. With a new principal, many new faculty members, and renovations to this aging building, there is a hopeful energy throughout the school, and a sense that things are trending upward.

“Much more so this year than last year, I feel empowered and driven to tackle the problems that are in front of me,” says  Ms. Wallin, a 7th grade teacher at Johnson.

For Star Wallin, teaching is about carrying on a tradition. She was born in Florida, grew up in Mississippi, and attended Vanderbilt University. After college, she worked for years at a management consulting firm in Washington, DC – not something she originally envisioned herself doing. “I was under the impression that I was going to work for the man,” she laughs. But her time spent in consulting proved to be “an incredibly rigorous training opportunity,” working in her firm’s education practice, which did work for urban public school systems and nonprofit organizations.

Eventually, she found herself drawn to the classroom. “I realized that it was something that I was very passionate about, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, because I come from a family of educators,” Wallin says. Her mother spent 50 years in education, as a teacher, principal, and superintendent; her grandmother, aunt, and sisters are all in the field. “It goes all the way back to my great-grandfather,” Wallin says.

She joined Teach For America and began teaching at Johnson in 2010. This academic year is the second and final of her commitment to TFA, an AmeriCorps organization.

“I realized that if I was I was ever going to have any sort of credibility – to myself or anybody else – I would need to be on the front line and experience it for myself, Wallin said. “So here I am, on the front line.”

For the rest of the week, we will be taking you through a day in the life of Ms. Wallin and the City Year corps members who she works with at Johnson Middle School.  Come back tomorrow to learn more!

Continue the story here.


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