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Tribe Spotlight: Caitlin Tuffin ’08

Caitlin Tuffin ’08: Changing the World, One Class at a Time


May 7, 2009

While she was a student, Caitlin Tuffin ’08 always thought that she would commit herself to doing something positive after graduation. And her mission started right away. During her senior year, she applied for a position with Teach for America, a competitive nationwide program which recruits recent college graduates to teach in school districts located in lower-income economically challenged areas.

During her freshman year at the College, Tuffin was a Sharpe Community Scholar and took Hispanic Studies in the Latino Community with Professor Jonathan Arries, which turned into an experience that helped put her on the path to teaching.

“That man was one of the reasons why William and Mary was so awesome,” says Tuffin, who was a women’s studies and sociology double major as a student. “He helped me understand what it means to be academically involved and socially involved.”

She decided to rank Phoenix as her first choice for placement with Teach for America. She chose Phoenix for the opportunity for its multicultural communities and specifically to get to know Hispanic culture directly. She also considered the chance to obtain a master’s degree, with many options available in the Phoenix area. Now Tuffin is pursing a Master of Arts and Teaching from Arizona State University through the College of Teaching, Education, and Leadership. She hopes to graduate in 2010.

After William and Mary graduation in 2008, she traveled to Phoenix for a week long orientation and a five-week teaching institute with the Teach for America program. She started teaching classes in the first week of August.

“I was scared,” remembers Tuffin. “It was frightening to know that I was responsible for all these people when after four years the only person I had to be responsible for was myself.”

Tuffin currently teaches 56 eighth graders in mathematics at Percy L. Julian Elementary School, whose population is composed of 50 percent Hispanic and 50 percent African-American students.

“It is interesting, because of the demographic breakdown there is a lot of racial tension and there is a prevalent gang culture,” Tuffin says.

Though she enjoys her work and feels like she is helping to change lives, Tuffin believes that one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of her position is the feeling of not being able to provide the students with everything they need.

“My students are funny, fabulous kids, like any eighth graders they make some bad decisions but they make good ones too,” says Tuffin. “I want to give them all the happiness and peace into their lives, but you can only give them what you can in the classroom.

“The classroom can become a really safe space where your kids can become comfortable and be themselves and feel safe for a few minutes. A lot of them have really rough things going on at home.”

While some aspects of the job are frustrating, others are truly rewarding. Tuffin enjoys the opportunity to make an impact on her students. Her favorite aspect of her job is how her students have made an impact on her own life, opening her eyes to a whole new world, a world to which the College helped provide a path to.

“William and Mary helped me learn what it really means to be a leader,” says Tuffin. “I also learned how to persevere in the face of challenge. Teaching my students is the hardest challenge I've ever dealt with and I've seen people around me fail under the pressure.

“I had so many challenges at William and Mary that taught me never to give up hope. The William and Mary drive helped me push through to reach success.”

Tuffin plans to continue teaching at the elementary school for two more years, which is one year more than the required Teach for America commitment. After teaching, Tuffin is considering becoming a guidance counselor or school principal.

“I see myself being involved with education,” says Tuffin. “Teaching is wonderful in that every day I feel like I'm doing something meaningful.”

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Tuffin’08.

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