Grace, recently accepted into Teach for America in Dallas, is eager and anxious to start the 2014-2015 school year. She was raised in a single-mother household in Dallas, is a product of the Dallas Independent School District and is proud of it– but is still learning how to succeed in life with little family support.
“The district is actually plagued by really, really, high dropout rates. I’m not the kind of person that wants to grow up and leave my upbringing and never go back,” she said. “I want to grow up and be humbled by where I came from.”
According to Grace, Dallas is a high-need region DISD needs more teachers than they can meet with more than 300 teacher vacancies in Dallas. Teach for America is working to alleviate that problem.
“I have essentially no family. If I got laid off tomorrow, I’d have nobody to ask for money,” Grace said.
When Grace was in college, a professor set an appointment with a doctor friend to pull her wisdom teeth for free. It was her testament that good-hearted people exist and why she needs to help inner-city youth get an education.
“I go to bed knowing that I don’t want to contribute to all the fucked up things in this world,” Grace said. “I don’t want to be part of the problems of this world; I want to be a part of the solution, that’s why I went to teaching.”
Grace knows the students she will teach will come from similar situations.
“They don’t have anybody at home. They don’t have anybody telling them they’re worth a damn. And it’s one of the worst places you can be in life,” she said.
Grace is unsure of her future after her two-year commitment. Depending on her experience, it will make or break if she wants to teach. Grace holds a bachelor’s in environmental studies but decided to leave the profession because of the policies, like the clean water and clean air acts, she learned in her environmental policy class. It was her final senior capstone class to complete her major and she hated it.
“I didn’t hate the class; I hated the policies I learned. There are so many stipulations,” she said.
Grace did an education internship the summer after her junior year.
“I’d go to my internship and be like, this is work and I’m getting paid to do it?” Grace said. “It didn’t feel like work. It felt like life.”
“That’s beautiful,” Tessa said.
Grace and Tessa met at Austin College in Sherman six years ago when they were both very different. Tessa never had more fun with anyone. The two bonded so intensely, they finish each other’s sentences with ease and laughter.
“We were a little more free spirited. Now we’re kind of uptight, kind of negative,” Grace said.
“Trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. What we’re doing,” Tessa returned.
“Who we are what’s next, what’s tomorrow.”
“How are we going to get paid.”
“How we’re going to get up in the morning. Or the afternoon,” Grace finished.
One Halloween, Tessa dressed as a homeless person and Grace dressed as a raver faced death on the tracks that dice Sherman after narrowly escaping an oncoming train.
“We were dumb,” Tessa said.
“It was like an indie film coming of age scene,” Grace said.
Tessa is a history major in her senior year at the University of North Texas. She discovered her passion for oral history while in an oral course that helps wrap up her degree in December. In the class, Tessa is learning the method of interviewing people to create a historical record and the ethics of her craft.
“One of my teachers invited me to be in his class and I actually did poorly in his class before and he was like you got to be serious about this shit. You barely passed my class last time,” she said.
Tessa recently held an exceptional internship with the national park service. Now, she hopes to become a ranger after graduating in December before attending graduate school for history on the path to become a historian at a park.
While she’s not working or in class, she spends time interviewing people for an assignment about the desegregation of Fort Worth and Dallas asking about the legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to recreate life in the Metroplex during Jim Crow.
They stand across from each other, telling jokes and laughing. The conversation turns back to when they first met.
“I just remember being around her and being fucking giddy and just like, being. I don’t know, it was just awesome,” Tessa said, “That sounds really gay too.”
“I consider myself probably a really average low-key person,” Grace said.
“This girl is badass,” Tessa said. “I feel like there was a point in time where I almost felt like you were like my girlfriend. It’s when I was working at the district and we talked every fucking day. Like, I’d call you during my lunch hour.”
“She’d call me when she was sleeping underneath the desk.”
“I’m a horrible employee. I’d like fucking take a nap at work and call her.”
“I guess there were a couple times when I opened up my mail box and there were letters. I felt like I was being serenaded like there was this secret romance that nobody else in the world could really know about.”
“Like overly romantic language like you had gone off to war or something.”
“I was back from the great wah.”
“Grace is like family to me, she really is. She definitely inspires me reminds me who I am,” Tessa said.