Being a dedicated educator is no easy task. But for Attallah IES alumna Dayna Sipila ’17, serving as a Teach for America corps member has provided her with an opportunity to deepen her passion for teaching and leadership. Dayna currently teaches 6th grade STEM and social studies at the Richmond College Preparatory charter school in Richmond, California.
Check out her Instagram account @growingleadingloving to follow her teaching journey as “Ms. Sipila.” Here we’ve asked Dayna to share how she got involved with the organization and her reflections on teaching, leading, and growing as a human being.
How did you become involved with Teach for America (TFA)?
At Chapman, I was an IES major and a Leadership Studies minor. Both programs changed my life. For my senior research capstone, I studied first-generation college students, their stories, and their identities. This allowed me to see ever deeper into how systems of oppression affect the trajectories of many students in our current education system. I became fired up and excited about entering the world of education.
I honestly really struggled choosing what to do post-graduation. I originally applied for a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in the Czech Republic. Within that time, I also applied to TFA as a backup plan. I knew there was a lot of criticism of TFA, so I was nervous about making a commitment to an organization that had a good amount of backlash. When I first got my acceptance into TFA, I did not get the region I had a preference for, and I immediately told myself that I was not going to do it. I was also lost, confused, and emotional about the thought of actually leaving Chapman.
Thankfully, I had a really awesome support system, and after talking with a few of my best friends, I started to open up more to the possibility of joining TFA. I had done a lot of research on the program. I saw horror stories (which scared me to death), and I saw life-changing success stories. I was so fixated on the horror stories that I lost sight of what TFA is really about—the students.
TFA is not a perfect organization by any means; changing the education system is a daunting task that is going to take time. TFA has been a perfect fit for me though. It has been a perfect blend of my two passions. TFA takes a leadership approach to education, seeing educators as leaders first. This vision aligned so perfectly with my teaching philosophy: to lead with love above all. Once I took time to sit with my why and my purpose, I saw TFA as a good start to my journey as an educator, and I am happy with my experience thus far.
What is your favorite part about being a teacher?
Being a teacher is the hardest thing I have ever done. Honestly. Teaching is not all about decorating your classroom to look like your Pinterest board (your students will ruin it pretty quickly), cute crafts and projects you have planned (they will most definitely do it wrong and/or use their scissors as a weapon for fun), and life-changing speeches to your students (you will get eye rolls and/or students will completely miss the message). It is challenging. You give 100% of yourself all day, every day. For the demographic I work with, the students have stories that impact who they bring to the classroom each day—things entirely out of my control. Things 11 year olds should not know and understand. It is emotionally draining. It is seriously hard work.
But I still love it. You have to live for the little things.
One of my students picks me a lime and brings it to me after they have PE each day. One of my students invited me to his football game because he wanted me to be there. Another one of my students bought me a hot dog after school one day. These moments melt your heart; they remind you of why you are here. You have to offer yourself so much grace in this job. I go to work every day with an opportunity to reflect, to learn, to grow. Every single day. I make mistakes and I pick myself back up again and try again. I get paid to do that. I get paid to do what I love: build relationships, promote learning and leadership, and grow as a human being. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Excerpt from the Attallah College Undergraduate Student Newsletter.