Teach For America South Carolina 2017
Fourth-Grade Teacher, Wallace Gregg Elementary School
By 2017, the bright lights of Nashville were hurting Quenton Martin’s vision.
He felt weighed down by bureaucracy at his state job in the Tennessee capital. It paid so poorly that he worked part-time at a pharmacy to make ends meet. He missed Tuscaloosa, his hometown, and Troy University where he graduated cum laude in 2016 with a degree in social science.
Martin wanted change.
His closest advisor kept telling him one thing: You were born to teach.
So, one day Martin drove across town and applied at Teach For America (TFA). He listed 10 spots on the map, several in Alabama, as preferred teaching locations.
He was placed in tiny Manning, S.C.
“No city in the state of South Carolina was on my preferred list,” confessed Martin. “And to tell the truth, I wasn’t too keen in staying in a small place.”
In fact, Martin chose to live in Columbia, S.C. He commuted 90 minutes each way to Manning, every school day, for three years. He put 200,000 miles on his car. He taught writing, language arts, and social studies at various times to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.
And he got the change he’d been seeking.
“What I found was that I’ve yet to meet a person to treat me bad in South Carolina,” said Martin.
The state’s welcome embrace met him in the classroom and community. It opened his heart.
“I came to a school that was at the bottom of the bottom,” he said. “It was a lot of work, my God it was. But I came to want to be part of change there.”
A keen social observer – he calls himself a “political junkie” – Martin took note of how many of his friends earned degrees in rural states then matriculated to larger metro areas.
It … somehow … felt unjust.
“If we all leave rural communities after graduation, we are leaving a subset behind,” he said. “I believe every child and adult should have equal opportunity. I feel drawn to where there is a greater need of service.”
Martin gets motivation from “the TFA vision of One Day.”
“All we aspire to have in education – educational equity – we will get one day,” he insisted. “Maybe not today, but one day. We all need that One Day mindset. It has assisted me in understanding the importance of what I do as a teacher.”
Martin saw enough students over three years in Manning to spot something exhilarating in them.
“Rural students have a drive,” he said. “A drive to prove people wrong. About stereotypes. About the place they’re from. About their chances of success.”
In 2020, Martin started teaching at Wallace Gregg Elementary School in Florence, S.C. He’s still in a small town with rural students. Yet, his mission of change remains … unchanged.
“I’ve come to believe that a teacher has the ability to shine lights in the darkest of places,” said Martin, “while pushing those on the precipice of success into a stratosphere beyond their wildest beliefs.”