Following a welcome dinner hosted by Las Vegas Sands, a group of teachers with Teach for America Las Vegas Valley have started a new school year at schools throughout the Las Vegas valley and have already learned what it takes to teach in Las Vegas. With Clark County being the fifth largest school district in the nation, there are challenges teachers face daily.
“The biggest challenge I face is class size. I’m not letting it stop me from being the best I can be,” Stephen Barney, sixth grade teacher at O’Callahan Middle School in east Las Vegas, said. “I’ve separated my classes into groups so that they have a smaller circle to have open discussions and collaborate on projects. All of them stay on task and it pushes me to be a better teacher. I have to find ways for them to better understand what I’m teaching so they can learn as much as possible.”
Through the Sands Education Council (SEC), which also includes Nevada Succeeds and Public Education Foundation, Teach for America is a key partner in developing opportunities to enhance skills that create stronger teachers, driving quality talent to Las Vegas, advocating for stronger support in teacher development and identifying paths to leadership within the local education system. Since 2004, Teach for America has joined various community partners in tackling educational inequality and poverty.
“The kids in my classes have great energy and are so smart,” Barney said. “I love my kids and I love my staff. I want to leave all of my classes with a sense of purpose and that their voice matters. I want to make an impact on their education and success.”
For Pamela Cates, a Special Education middle school teacher at Equipo Academy, there are various challenges she faces, but understanding limitations has helped her prioritize in her classroom and understand that not everything can be accomplished in one day, let alone by the end of the school year.
“Any teacher, especially those that teach Special Education, need to understand the limitations we face and understand that it will take some time to make an impact,” Cates said. “One small step does lead to progress and my kids surprise me every day. I’m most surprised when they take initiative and advocate for themselves and their classmates. They’re incredible people, and when they have a moment when they’re struggling to understand something, the “Aha” moment they have once they figure it out is the reason why we teach.”
Getting involved with Teach for America was not planned for Cates. After graduation from Temple University, it was a business ethics class at law school in Boston and the encouragement of two of her sorority sisters that were already with TFA, that made her want to pursue a career in education.
“I interviewed with TFA and kept moving on in the process. Las Vegas was my top city of choice and Special Education was one of my top three subjects that I wanted to teach. It was meant to be,” she said. “While I’m here, my goal is to change the perception of Special Education. They are not less than other students. They are exceptional learners. They just learn a different way.”