Yaverbaum ’14 joins Teach for America Corps

-4When Cole Yaverbaum ’14 began working for the Teach for America (TFA) Corps this year, she did not expect all the challenges that came with being an elementary school teacher. In an email correspondence she said, “For most of my life, I think I highly underestimated the difficulty of teaching children. My view has changed so dramatically since I started. I think it’s actually one of the hardest jobs I could have chosen – the hours, the daily preparation, the patience required. But it’s also so incredible!”

Yaverbaum is a native New Yorker and majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing while at the College. She was heavily involved with Colby Cares about Kids (CCAK), Student Government Association (SGA), and participated in Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips.

Yaverbaum also served as a teaching assistant for Multicultural Literacy during her junior and senior years, and she cites her experiences with this particular course as a driving force behind her decision to work for TFA.

Yaverbaum said, “Multicultural Literacy forced me to deeply reflect on my identity in terms of my race, social class, religion, sexuality, gender and more. It was this reflection that prompted my realization that my story of growing up with a sick mother mattered significantly to who I am.”

Yaverbaum’s personal experiences play into her world view. “I saw from a young age how harmful it is to see things in binary ways or to put people into categories: you’re sick or you’re healthy, you’re a woman or you’re a man, and this means you have to do certain things, you’re black or you’re white which means you must like this thing or that thing,” she continued.

As Yaverbaum became more involved with her academics and CCAK, she realized how much of a role her childhood has played in her decision-making for the future. “Towards the end of my time at Colby, I started to recognize how my childhood, in so many ways, influenced my passions and outlooks. Because I experienced privilege in so many ways, I was able to avoid this reflection for a long time,” she said.

Yaverbaum also discussed the way her experience with Multicultural Literacy impacted her views on privilege: “When I took Multicultural Literacy, avoiding coming to terms with my privilege—my whiteness, my heterosexuality, my upper-middle-class-ness—and related experiences was not an option anymore if I wanted to engage meaningfully, and I did.”

However, Yaverbaum did not consider working at TFA until the very end of her college career. During her senior year at the College, she largely focused on applying to programs that would give her a Masters in Fine Arts with a concentration in poetry.  Yaverbaum thought she wanted to be a poetry professor. “I loved poetry. I still do. But I also realized as I explored my own story and childhood that being around kids was important to me,” she said.

“Being a poetry student taught me that I like being around people who want to talk about how they feel and want to be honest about it, even when other people don’t want to hear it, or it’s not pretty…Kids are like that. They’re candid and they’re going to tell you how they feel even when you don’t want to hear it,” she continued.

Yaverbaum’s experience as a CCAK mentor reaffirmed her desire for working with kids because her visits with her mentee were “continuously one of the best parts of my week,” she said.

This year, Yaverbaum is working at Success Academy in Crown Heights, Brooklyn where she says she continuously needs to consider her identity and the role it plays in her profession. She said, “I work in a school where zero of my students are white. I think it’s really important that students can feel affirmed that some of the people teaching them share their identities. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t teach in the school that I do—because I’m white—but that I have to consider what role race plays in my job.”

Yaverbaum also commented on what she thinks it means to be a good teacher. “I’m not sure that you can be a good teacher without thinking about [your identity]. TFA really pushes all its core members to dig deeply to understand their story – how they got where they are, and how it connects to what they’re doing—and identities. My identity is, of course, part of my story.”

While Yaverbaum wants to continue working with kids in the future, she is not sure if she will pursue a career in education. “I think a lot of people go into teaching because they have an idealized view of what it’s like to have 20 or more kids who adore you and who say cute things and are funny. And it’s true: they will probably adore you, and they do say cute things, and they are so, so funny,” she said.

“But if you don’t have a real reason for why you come to school everyday that has to do with who you are as a person and what matters to you, the energy that is required to teach will dwindle…. I’m willing to bet that waking up at 5 AM doesn’t continue to be fun just because you think kids are cute. There has to be something more,” Yaverbaum added.

For now, Yaverbaum says that she will continue teaching for a while after leaving the corps. “I go to school everyday and I make sure they know I care about them. But most of why I go to school is because I learn from them: how to be silly, how to be vulnerable and how to be genuine.”

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