Special Education Teacher, Colleton County High School
“I’m the least expected person to show up as a Teach For America teacher,” admitted Wanda Ashworth-Valencia.
In her mid-50s, Ashworth-Valencia stepped down as the site director of Touching Miami with Love – West Homestead to move closer to her family in South Carolina. Her involvement with teens in the Epiphany Prison Ministry sparked an interest in educational equity, so after moving, she inquired about teaching positions through Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) because of their shared belief in the potential of all children.
“When I arrived at TFASC’s Pre-Service summer teacher training, I didn’t realize that the organization predominantly targets recent college graduates. That being said, I was inspired by my fellow teachers’ drive and energy, and I was grateful that TFASC allowed me to find my calling later in life,” shared Ashworth-Valencia, whose mom similarly became a teacher in her 40s.
As she recalled, Pre-Service’s diversity, equity, and inclusiveness sessions were enlightening to question the thinking from her lived experiences.
“TFASC’s training also taught me how to use data to strengthen relationships with parents who are struggling and to give every student the attention they need,” said Ashworth-Valencia. “One of the best ways that we can help students is to help parents.”
During the 2018-2019 academic year, she was placed by TFASC at Colleton County High School to teach special education self-contained. During her initial two-year commitment with TFASC, Ashworth-Valencia was named “Rookie Teacher of the Year” and “Teacher of the Year” for Colleton County High School.
“TFASC asks you to think about your ‘why,’ and my ‘why’ is to reach out to kids who may feel forgotten – from my previous volunteering in the juvenile justice system to my current teaching of students with disabilities,” she said.
Ashworth-Valencia is now entering her fourth year at Colleton County High School. She is consistently maintaining quality teaching for the same students and supporting their families at a time when South Carolina schools desperately need tenured educators in place.
“TFASC is part of the solution to improve the state’s education system because they are strategically looking for teachers who will make a significant impact in their classrooms at an accelerated rate, and they are preparing the next generation of educators to have hard conversations and embrace challenges,” said Ashworth-Valencia.
She also hopes that more mature educators like herself join TFASC because “everyone is needed to be the engine that turns this giant ship in the right direction.”