FROM READERS: MU alumna gets second chance to be a kid with Teach For America

Thursday, January 9, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:52 a.m. CST, Thursday, January 9, 2014

Caroline ‘Buddy’ Dobrez is a Chicago native and MU alumna who studied journalism and art history. She is part of the Teach for America corps teaching kindergarten at ReNEW SciTech, a turnaround school in the heart of New Orleans.

On the corner of a forgotten street in New Orleans, there’s a little school with faded murals on the walls and holes in the stairwells — making birds a frequent classroom visitor. The walls hold a truth, its history, everything this once failing school has been through.

This school is my school, my new home. I teach kindergarten in the heart of New Orleans, and every day is an adventure.

My kids trickle into the school around 7 a.m. The thermometer outside has not sunk below 65 degrees, but the students still come bundle up in their winter gear. The cafeteria is filled with brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. Just in my class, I have five cousins. So much of this school feels like family.

A friend of mine asked me to write about my Teach for America (TFA) experience and let me emphasize the word my: my experience. I have my own thoughts — as I am sure you do — about the education system, the pitfalls of TFA, and so on and so forth, but there’s so much more I’d rather share with you.

I spend much of my day teaching students everything from letter sounds, patterns, shapes, reading, spelling, and really how to be human — from being the bigger person to tying your shoes.

My favorite part of the day is when I can sneak away from my planning for a little bit to join my kids at recess. We run around the playground pretending to be different animals. Or I just sit on a bench while some kids climb all around me asking me goofy questions as I watch the rest of them play. It’s one of the few times all of us can just be kids.

My kids laugh, cry, pout, push, shove, tease, refuse to listen and even pee themselves, but they are simply wonderful.

And (most days) my kids come to school with so much love and joy for the world. We even have a secret hand sign for "I love you" to stop them from blurting it out during class. Their worlds are full of hate, but they have nothing but love.

My kids carry stories that no 5-year-old, or any person, should have to carry with them. But they do, and boldly at that. I cannot, nor will I, share my students’ stories. I hope that one day they tell their own stories on their own terms.

When it comes down to it, the American education system is flawed. You have heard it before: loss of creativity, unbelievable pressure on teachers and students to perform on standardized test, lack of resources, crowded classrooms. It’s flawed, but that’s not what I spend my days thinking about. I think about my kids, how to teach an ESL student how to rhyme, how to get one of my shyest students to feel comfortable talking to her peers, how to make sure my kids go home with enough food, how to create a challenging, yet loving, classroom that does not fail them, but still gives them a chance to be a 5-year-old — a chance just to be a kid.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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