Picture this: It’s the first day of class. Some students are scrolling through their phones and others are just sitting and waiting. I walk in the classroom trying to appear confident, but with sweaty palms and a million butterflies in my stomach. Then, I introduce myself: “Hi; my name is Brittany. I look forward to being your teacher.”
I’ve been a teacher at Fortune for over a year. Each day, my colleagues and I face the challenge of teaching students who want an education but often have other difficulties to address, including criminal justice involvement, unstable housing, and unemployment. These obstacles make it difficult for them to place education at the top of their list of priorities. Nevertheless, they come to class with goals and a desire to pursue an education.
In order to provide our students with a meaningful learning experience, each teacher at Fortune develops their own dynamic curricula. But we’re not just educators— we often double as counselors, case managers, and other mentor roles. We want all of our students to reach their educational goals and successfully transition out of Fortune’s Education program.
I’ve had a number of unforgettable experiences in my role. Once, a student came up to me with tears in his eyes, saying “thank you.” He had just received his High School Equivalency Diploma. Immediately, I jumped up and screamed “you got it!?” When he said “yes,” I almost cried with him. His gratitude was humbling, and one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve experienced. But though his thanks to me was appreciated, the success he accomplished was all his own. He worked hard for his education, and as a result achieved his goal. I was proud of his achievements as a student, but also very proud of his growth as an individual. That moment, along with so many others, affirms the importance of our work at Fortune.
My classroom is more than a learning environment. It’s also an open forum for students to reflect on issues and concerns regarding their future, current events, politics, sexual health— even music and sports. These discussions guide what I teach, and allow for students to have input on what they learn. And it’s through these discussions that students come to identify and develop their “voice,” a freedom of expression that thrives without fear of reprisal.
Over time, they learn that their opinions matter and are highly valued. For many students, discovering their voice is one of the best parts of their Fortune Education experience. Its impact extends beyond the classroom: Many students become involved in advocacy efforts as a result of it, including attending rallies in support of more funding for adult literacy and expanding alternatives to incarceration.
Every time a student accomplishes a goal, every time a student is empowered to use their voice, every time a student expresses gratitude, every challenge they overcome, and every instance of growth affirms the importance of the Education program at Fortune. I’m grateful to be part of it.