A Q&A with Syedah Asghar, RTW '12 and TFA San Antonio '14

As a public health student at Agnes Scott College, Syedah Asghar had the opportunity to volunteer with Reach the World while studying abroad in England. During her time there, Syedah connected with an American elementary class through blog posts and Skype sessions to help them gain understanding of British culture. Through her experience with Reach the World, Syedah began to see her career path differently. After graduation, while working in a pre-K classroom, she chose to apply to Teach For America, and ultimately joined the 2014 TFA-San Antonio corps. Aside from her impact in the classroom, Syedah leads Empowered Young Womyn of Irving, a student organization where she discusses female empowerment with her students. As a Pakistani Muslim American, Syedah is proud to help reaffirm her students’ identities, who are often left out of the mainstream narrative. She is now combining her passions for science and education in the classroom as an 8th grade science teacher in her TFA placement school. 

Q: I’d love to hear more about your path to Teach For America. How did you decide to join Reach the World? And what was your path to TFA?

A: I honestly never considered teaching as a career option. I was very dedicated to science and research. However, I needed to take part in a service opportunity as part of my Gilman Scholarship. I chose to do Reach the World while studying abroad in England, and it was a great experience. I had the opportunity to help younger students understand the cultural nuances of those living in the UK. Because of my time in England, I started seeing my career trajectory differently. After graduation, while I was working in a pre-K classroom, I decided to apply for TFA. I realized I could still love science, but shift the focus towards helping others through education. It’s empowering to know that my students are the future, and that I was part of their education.

Q: What are some examples of positive impact you had on the community you served through Reach the World?  

A: I focused on the cultural differences between America and the UK. I wanted my students to go beyond just superficially respecting someone, but also being aware and recognizing those differences. It started small with just teaching them the basic daily routine items that kids don’t think about – when they get up in the morning, what the weather is like, the food they eat, the money they use. That grew to how we celebrate holidays differently, and the historical contexts behind their diversity. American students can relate to diversity within a country, but that looks different around the world. Sharing those narratives was interesting.

Q: How did your service with Reach the World prepare you to be a leader with Teach For America?

A: Because I never considered teaching, Reach the World opened a gateway and exposed me to that option. My experience in the UK piqued my interest and gave me a glimpse into what my life could be like as a teacher. I learned how to make learning fun for my students; to learn every student needs to be engaged. Because of Reach the World, I knew how to focus my lessons and give my students multiple strategies to learn the same material. At the end of the day, did they learn or were they just nodding their heads?

Q: What has been your biggest inspiration to continue in the fight to end educational inequity? 

A: It always comes back to my students. They surprise me every day. For example, I’m a basketball coach, and during our first game, one of my girls came in after missing practice. When I asked if something happened, she told me her brother was in the hospital. He has cancer and her family wasn’t sure if he was going to be okay, but here she was at a basketball game. That showed an unbelievable level of resiliency. I get to see the courage and passion that these kids have every day. My job as an educator is to give them a space where they feel safe, respected, and affirmed, regardless of what they may be going through.