Blair Watler (left) with other Teach For America trainees get to know each other

Even while she was studying journalism at the University of Texas, even when she became news editor for the Daily Texan, heck – even before she finished her freshman year, LHHS 2006 graduate Blair Watler felt herself being pulled toward Teach For America.

TFA is sometimes referred to as the domestic Peace Corps,” because they recruit bright, accomplished, optimistic college graduates to tackle jobs many others won’t touch – teaching underprivileged, low-performing students in America’s public schools.

Blair was chosen for TFA – no small feat, given that thousands apply to be one of 8,200 currently serving. She is presently completing her training in the Mississippi Delta teaching third graders. She begins her full-time assignment in the fall teaching 8th grade English at Whitewater Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Most TFA members are hired by Title 1 schools, which qualify for federal assistance based on high percentages of low-income students. In these schools, performance is below-par, test scores are low, and parental support is lacking. Blair knows that these are challenges she will face.

“My mom taught me to be a big believer in supporting public schools,” Blair told me. “Even at Lake Highlands, in a way we had two different schools. I didn’t see racial tension, but there was a form of segregation. Advanced Placement classes were mostly white, middle class students, and regular classes had a more diverse population.” Blair believes the key to success for the students she’ll be teaching is setting high expectations. “Every student has the potential to read and to learn, and we have to help them believe that.”

TFA trains new recruits with this brutal reality: Educational inequity starts early and gets worse over time. It limits life choices, professional options & incomes, and it weakens families and communities. Educational inequity undermines our nation’s economic strength.

“This problem is the last social justice issue that hasn’t been tackled in our country,” said Blair. “We have to change our mindset.”

Blair describes her summer training as a crash course in education. “Even if you have a teaching degree, you don’t really know how you’ll do ‘til you get some hands-on experience.” She admits that class management is a struggle, but she’s encouraged by an experience with one of her third graders. “At first she wouldn’t even come to the board and say her name,” she said. “Now she is reading aloud to the class. I know she believes in herself now. Knowing that I believe in her has made all the difference.”

If you’d like to support Blair and help her 8th graders learn to love reading, Blair is seeking donated books, new or gently used, for her in-class library. She hopes to make easily available titles like Of Mice and Men, Little Women, Great Gatsby, Diary of Anne Frank, The Color Purple, Lord of the Rings, The Giver and Harry Potter. All donations can be left on her front porch at 5 Twin Bridge off Greenville Avenue by Tuesday, July 20. You can also email Blair here and/or follow her blog here. I hope the 8th graders in Charlotte know how lucky they are to have her.