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Alum Prepares to Empower Low-Income Youth with Teach for America

Alum Prepares to Empower Low-Income Youth with Teach for America

Molly Naylor ’16 on her study abroad Semester at Sea—a program the Office of Off-Campus Programs/International Studies partners with to give students a once-in-a-lifetime, multi-country land and sea experience. (Photo provided by Molly Naylor ’16)

A semester touring 11 countries by land and sea was more than an experience of a lifetime for linguistics major Molly Naylor ’16. It was an experience that changed her life. During Naylor’s Semester at Sea—an approved third-party provider program through the Office of Off-Campus Programs/International Studies—she developed a passion for teaching English as a second language (TESL). Now, the recent grad is preparing for a new adventure: working with youth in low-income areas of the Twin Cities as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member.

Although the transition from linguistics to TESL wasn’t a one-step process, opportunities provided through Bethel and TFA made Naylor’s dreams possible. When she returned to campus from her study abroad experience, Naylor added a TESL minor and began taking courses that further opened her eyes to the needs of English as a second language education in the U.S. “TESL is a field where teachers not only need background knowledge in English and pedagogy—they also need passion for supporting students where they are, and with what they need,” says Associate Professor of TESL Sarah Tahtinen-Pacheco, whom Naylor says was influential in growing her knowledge and passion for the field.

However, Naylor’s budding love for TESL put her in a difficult position professionally. Because linguistics had been a lifelong passion, Naylor was unwilling to change her major to education. On the other hand, adding a second major or pursuing a teaching license would extend her time in school and, consequently, the cost of her education. So, when a friend told Naylor about Teach for America, she knew it was an opportunity worth pursuing. “Everything from when I started applying for Teach for America has gone so smoothly that it couldn’t be anything but provision through God’s hand,” Naylor says.

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates from any major to work as teachers in schools where the majority of students come from low-income homes. These recruits are given essential training and have the opportunity to earn their teaching license through their experience working in the program. The organization’s mission is to develop youth into future leaders by “strengthening the movement for educational equity and excellence,” according to their website. The company also believes strongly that important learning happens for their corps members, who may be exposed to communities and circumstances outside of their familiar circles in the classrooms. For Naylor, this is one of the most appealing aspects of TFA.

“This is new territory for me,” Naylor says. “So I’m nervous for that but I’m excited also…I’m going into [this experience] as a person wanting to learn. I see a great need in our society today for allies with refugees and immigrants, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with anybody who feels like they’re being oppressed in this country…so I’m hoping to learn, listen, and gauge what my part is in this as dictated by other people.”

After an extensive interview process, Naylor learned that she was among the 14% of 48,000 applicants nationwide to be accepted into the 2017 TFA corps. She was placed in a school in the Twin Cities, where she signed on to teach English as a second language for two years beginning this fall. Since its founding in 1990, TFA has admitted 22 Bethel graduates. Naylor says the Bethel experience supports the mission and vision of TFA through the diverse perspectives of Bethel instructors. “It’s not just a one-mindset way of thinking among professors,” she says. “I really appreciate that, and I think that’s going to aid me when hearing people’s stories. Not everybody will be the same, and not everybody believes in the same things, but that doesn’t make those people any less smart, any less beautiful, or any less of a person.”

Lauren Barber, prospect communications manager for Teach for America, says that one of the reasons so many young adults are drawn to TFA is because it gives them the opportunity to “have an immediate impact on issues they’re passionate about right after graduation.” Corps members also gain hands-on experience, grow and develop as leaders, and join a network of others who have been challenged and changed by the same experience. “We believe education can disrupt the social inequality that threatens our nation,” she says. “A great education opens doors of opportunity, transforms life outcomes, and leads to empowerment.”

Learn more about how Bethel’s nationally renowned Department of Education aligns with the TFA mission by equipping students to influence, grow, and empower the next generation.