On October 28, MTV News correspondent SuChin Pak headed to Bell High School in Los Angeles to join 6th period chemistry. SuChin isn't brushing up on the periodic table - she actually joined the class as part of Teach For America Week, an annual nationwide event in which leaders from all professions take on the role of guest teacher in some of the nation's lowest-income communities.
Hear what SuChin had to say about this moving experience.
Two weeks ago, I fulfilled a childhood dream: I taught my very first class through a program called Teach For America - an amazing nonprofit organization that asks recent college graduates to spend their first two years out of college, teaching in rural and urban public schools all across the country. Since 1990, over 2 million students in the toughest neighborhoods, with the highest dropout rates have benefited from other young people who understand that a teacher can change a life. I cannot say I exactly changed a life, but I'd like to believe that by simply bringing in the outside world into a seemingly disconnected neighborhood or school can help change a young person's perspective. Standing in front of that classroom I thought of my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Pickett, for the first time since leaving middle school and I realized that this is what she must have seen when looking out at us. Mrs. Pickett will always stand out in my childhood memories - not only was she a positive influence on my life, but I was such a devout admirer of Mrs. Pickett that I once wrote her a kind of love letter that went something like this:
Dear Mrs. Pickett,
Sometimes I wish that you could be my mom.
You are my favorite teacher.
There was more to it…in all I think 4 pages, front and back, but you get the idea. Now, it wasn't that I didn't love my mom or that I wanted another one, I just kind of wished I could have both of them living in my house permanently. Mrs. Pickett was one of those teachers that remind you of all the really great things about being a kid. Every fall, after a long summer spent away from her homeroom class, she would start off the school year by telling us these wonderful stories about the places she visited. Really exotic places, we would have to find on great big maps in our Social Studies class…Egypt, Italy, Florida. I have such vivid images in my head, that I swear I've seen photos of her trips.
Mrs. Pickett responded to that letter by taking me to a special lunch, just me and her in our classroom, where she told me more about these trips, unabridged, uninterrupted - answering all the questions I had about the plane ride, the food, the people she met. I remember how much time and care she took with each of her students. I wanted to be a teacher, just like her, and write books about the vacations I would one day take.
Like most of the students in our classroom, my family had recently immigrated to this country and my parents worked hard to make ends meet. Helping us with homework or planning vacations was a luxury I did not have. It's a miracle, a stroke of divine intervention then that I not only graduated high school, but went off to college (my mom's first-choice college she'll want me to add). I struggled with my college applications and through my SATs. My parents had no idea how to write a college essay or what a SAT preparatory class was or even how much college would cost. I relied on my teachers to get me through those hurdles, to make up for what my parents couldn't give me. Growing up in an immigrant community, with very little resources, your fate can be determined by teachers. These instructors, counselors, educators fully understand that being a great teacher isn't so much as what you do inside a classroom, but how one person can truly open the door to the great, big world outside of the classroom.
For me, Mrs. Pickett was the first person in my life to show me that the world was not only vast, but accessible, conquerable and within my grasp. She believed that expanding a young person's horizon, can be as simple as sharing a story. She realized that merit can only get you so far if opportunity does not exist; that those opportunities should not be determined by one's socioeconomic status. She believed that she could change our lives, and yes, with something as simple as how she spent her summer vacation.
- SuChin Pak