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Exceptional future teacher joins Teach For America to follow her passion

Lauren Edgar posing in a grade school classroom
May 05, 2014

In an age when college students pick a major before ever setting foot on campus, Lauren Edgar took a circuitous route at Arizona State University to discover her passion for teaching.

Named an Outstanding Teacher Candidate by ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the talented and hard-working 2014 graduate plans to join Teach For America in June after having already produced classroom results that most educators strive for.

“Lauren has a goal-oriented mindset that produces exemplary work,” said Aaron Carman-Smith, ASU’s iTeachAZ site coordinator for Roosevelt and Isaac school districts in Phoenix. “She consistently exceeds expectations, yet is humble and always seeks feedback. Our other iTeachAZ teacher candidates see Lauren as a leader, and they look to her to share her ideas, teaching methodologies and resources.”

One of those ideas was an “AIMS math boot camp” Edgar developed for her fourth-grade students who had scored among the lowest in the school district on their third-grade Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) math test. Edgar has spent the last year completing her student teaching residency, known as iTeachAZ, at V.H. Lassen Elementary School in the Roosevelt district under mentor teacher Linda Gayles.

“I created a mock AIMS math test for the students, and used that data to see what kind of help each child needed,” Edgar explained. “Then, I spent 15 to 20 hours tailoring the boot camp curriculum to each student and providing the kids with individual study packets.”

Edgar’s time and effort paid off when her students achieved 80-percent math proficiency – among the school district’s highest scores – in an assessment used to predict the next round of AIMS test outcomes.

“I had extremely high expectations for them, and I knew they could do it,” Edgar said. “I always tell my kids, ‘I’m on your team and I’m on your side.’ They know I’m a student, and I talk with them about that. It helps them understand that they don’t have to grow up in a place like Scottsdale to get a college degree. If they work hard enough, they can do it.”

Edgar knows from experience about hard work, having been employed full-time at The Westin Phoenix Downtown hotel while student-teaching nearly 40 hours a week and completing her ASU education classes. She said she has worked as many as three jobs at once while pursuing her college degree: “It’s been a huge learning experience that has tested my perseverance.”

Growing up in Portland, Ore., Edgar credits her single mother, who had no opportunity for a college education, with instilling in her daughter the drive to succeed.

“From the beginning, I had a very strong woman in my life who was relentless,” she said. “My determination to do the best that I can comes from her. As a first-generation college student, it was never a question of 'if' I would go to college, just 'how' I would make it happen.”

Edgar decided to leave the Northwest and come to ASU as a way to mature and expand her horizons. That she did, exploring a variety of majors – from nursing and retailing, with a minor in Italian, to public administration and pre-law – before finally discovering education.

“When I got into my education classes, I knew I was home,” she said.

Edgar explained that her academic journey at ASU taught her a lot about her own learning style, and that has inspired her approach to teaching. She said she found out that she learns best when instruction is very visual, auditory, hands-on and kinesthetic. Consequently, she is determined as a teacher to connect with individual students based on how they learn.

To help her fourth-graders visualize cellular structure, for example, Edgar bought jello molds and had the youngsters build their own cells using jello, green M&M’s, raisins and Whoppers. She also used her own resources to purchase batteries, wire and light bulbs so her students could build simple electronic circuits in order to understand how they work.

“Being able to see the lights work, to physically see that, was so critical,” Edgar said. “I just gave them the materials and let them experiment. I kept asking, ‘What’s happening here?’ It took their unit vocabulary words off the page and connected them to something they did.”

After graduation, Edgar has committed to becoming a Teach For America corps member for at least two years, assigned to Dallas, Texas. According to the TFA website, 90 percent of the student population in the Dallas Independent School District receives free or reduced lunch, and only 14 percent are prepared for college. According to Edgar, it’s a perfect fit.

“For me, I have grown passionate about working in Title I schools, surrounded by communities with strong cultures,” Edgar said. “I share the same core values as Teach For America, both in what I want to achieve and what I want to provide for my students.

“I want to see what I can learn from the students, parents and community that will help me develop as a teacher. I don’t feel I’m done learning.”

See the full list of ASU graduates who are becoming Teach for America corp members.