The tree pillars of NSCS: scholarship, leadership and service were engrained in me from the moment I went to my NSCS acceptance ceremony. My biggest take away from NSCS was using these pillars to guide my decision making. While I was still in college I discovered a passion for helping others. I attempted to embody these pillars when I was conducting research at the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland, helped start a non-profit for foster children and worked for the United States Secret Service.

Although I truly valued all of those opportunities, something was missing. I was yearning for something more. I wanted to find a job that would allow me to have an immediate impact on my country’s future and a job that would challenge me to continue learning every day.  I found Teach for America , applied and was lucky enough to be accepted.

A few short weeks after graduation, I arrived at Institute, which is what they call our boot camp of teacher training. During institute I taught a reading across the contents course to 10th, 11th and 12th graders. Within the first five minutes of diagnostic testing on the first day of class, one of the older students, Malik, abruptly got up, grabbed his things and stormed out. My co-teachers and I looked at each other and didn’t know what to do- I thought great, it’s my first day of teaching and someone already wants to quit. But then I started thinking about what I wanted my students to believe in. I knew that in my classroom, my students would value hard work. Quitting wasn’t an option. I ran out into the hallway after him. When I finally caught up to him, I could tell that he was upset. He looked down and said that he was going to fail my class and he shouldn’t waste his time with school anymore.

I promised Malik that my class was going to be challenging, but that if he worked hard, really hard, that things would be different. Malik put in a lot of work this past summer. He came in early for help with reading and he also wrote more than was required, so I could edit his extra work. Malik passed my class, scoring 24 points higher on the final exam than on the diagnostic that he almost gave up on.

I found myself back at Freire this September, the same place that Malik almost walked out of, with some of the same students from summer school.  About a week into quarter 1, one of my mentors, a TFA alum, came up to me and shared a story about Malik.  My fellow teacher said to me that he had Malik in his class and Malik approached him and said “man this stuff is easy”, “what stuff the teacher replied?” “Reading and writing”, Malik said. “Why, the teacher asked?

Malik went on to say something that I will never forget.

“Because Mr. James showed me that I could do it.”

Each day I am living out the three pillars that pushed me through college. I am serving the community that I grew up in, and I’m leading my students towards college. TFA has pushed me to grow further than I thought I could. I now possess an unshakable devotion to serving my country, and ensuring that all students have access to a great education.

Click through to learn what Teach for America looks for.