In classroom 205, Avi Peer is at her desk preparing for her AP Spanish students to arrive at any moment. It’s the second week of school and Ms. Peer is quickly adjusting to her first full year as a Mercy teacher.
“I feel like I’m right where I should be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. “I’ve been preparing my whole life for these moments.”
While Ms. Peer might be new to Mercy and running her first classes as a teacher, she is no stranger to education and has learned “from the best” when it comes to social advocacy based learning. That’s because Ms. Peer comes from “a family of teachers” and learned much of what she knows from her father, who is of Indian descent and grew up in South Africa during Apartheid. He came to the United States, where he met Ms. Peer’s mother and started thinking of ways he could support those in need in his home country.
When Apartheid was abolished in the early 1990’s, there was a huge void in the areas of math and science for non-whites because for decades Apartheid laws severely limited the social and economic rights of non-whites in these areas in regards to education and industry.
Her father’s solution: launch Teachers Across Borders. Now in it’s 17th year, Ms. Peer’s father finds teachers in the United States who are willing to pay their own travel fees to South Africa with the mission of providing professional development to local teachers in the areas of math and science. This summer, more than 500 teachers - who each teach 80-100 students - received support from the organization. Ms. Peer estimates the programs has supported more than a million students.
“It’s really beautiful to be part of something so special and to be with these teachers who go where the need is the greatest to support other teachers who are traveling up to four and five hours to receive this professional development,” she said. “It’s so easy to be humbled by this experience because there are so many people who are making things happen with so little. It’s truly inspiring to see everyone coming together for learning and for students.”
These powerful experiences are shaping how Ms. Peer prepares for class each day at Mercy.
“One of my goals this year it to get more comfortable speaking and with making mistakes because I really encourage a culture of speaking and communication - anything it takes to just get the words out and sometimes that makes us vulnerable,” she said. “You learn so many life skills from others in this program and I think that’s important to pass along to your students in class. I have really, really good kids that challenge me and show up ready to learn so that’s very exciting.”