Following the inspiring interview with Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, the second post in our Women's History Month Meet the Women of the Administration series features Confidential Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Education Taryn Benarroch. Check out this new post and hear about Taryn’s role models, her supportive family, how she developed a passion for education, and the TEACH initiative she helps run at the Department of Education.
Taryn Benarroch serves as Confidential Assistant in the Office of the
Secretary of the Department of Education.
How did your childhood influence you?
I am blessed with a wonderful family who loves and supports me both personally and professionally. These kind, intelligent, and hilarious people shaped my childhood and the person that I am. My amazing mother has an incredible ethic of hard work and service and being surrounded with that growing up absolutely influenced my world view. As a teenager, when I acted sullen or self pitying my mother would often tell me, “Go do some community service - do something nice for someone else.” She taught me the fundamental truth that contributing something to your community, acts of selflessness – those are the things that enrich you and make you a more centered and productive person. I try to live by this every day not only in the work that we are doing in the Administration, but in my personal life as well.
Also, my family is hilarious and my childhood was full of a lot of laughter. I learned early on to make the best of bad situations, to have fun anywhere, and to not take myself so seriously. This allows me today to find humor in some of the ridiculous situations that life presents.
Beyond that, I was surrounded by diverse and interesting people growing up and I take pieces of what I learned from each of them to my life today. My mother is an educator and has read more books than anyone I know. My regard for education is clearly from her. My stepfather is a former surfer and lifeguard and despite my city upbringing, taught me to enjoy the beauty of the world around me and the fun of exploring new places. My father, brothers, aunts, and uncles are writers, artists, and musicians and I grew up with the ethic of appreciating art and beauty. I am very lucky that I take all of that with me today.
Growing up, who were your role models?
My mother first and foremost. My mother’s strength is unshakable in any circumstance and I strive to be that strong. She’s also extremely ethical and courageous about her morals – I admire and continue to value the courage of her convictions.
In the same vein, growing up I admired Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Nelson Mandela – all leaders who spoke for the voiceless or stood up for things because they were right, even if they weren’t necessarily popular. I was in elementary school when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and was able to meet him when he came through my hometown of Los Angeles. I remember learning about his life and even then feeling outrage that he was imprisoned for standing up to inequality.
How did you become interested in working for the Federal government?
My father was born and raised in Morocco and Israel, so as a first generation American on one side I have a healthy appreciation for democracy and for the benefits of living in this country. I am fascinated by the system that ensures the freedoms that many of us take for granted. The right to speak, write, gather, worship, and vote however we want to – we have amazing freedoms and I feel that serving in the federal government supports the systems uphold the freedoms that I value.
What inspired you to pursue your field of interest?
My mother is a teacher and I have always seen teaching as one of the most important ways someone can serve their community, but there was not one moment that pushed me into education. As a college senior I knew I wanted to do something to serve, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. I had the opportunity to teach in New York City after graduation and after only a few months in the classroom it became obvious that my kids in the South Bronx weren’t getting the same education that the kids in the wealthier parts of Manhattan got. There were, however, many dedicated teachers around me and I was able to see the magic that happens when a great teacher works with a class for a year – it’s incredible. Seeing students make academic gains, appreciating and questioning the world around them – it is the living embodiment of education as a great equalizer. There are many ways to work to make things more equitable in this world, but I want to work to find a way to get a fantastic teacher and amazing schools for every child.
What keeps you motivated?
It’s impossible to answer this question and not sound corny. Honestly, it is the thought of all the kids that may not be getting the education that they deserve that keeps me going every day.
What has been your favorite moment since you’ve been working for the Department of Education?
I help run a program called the TEACH initiative, the national effort to elevate the status of teachers nationwide and recruit the best and brightest into the profession in the next ten years as baby boomers begin to retire. Recently the TEACH initiative did an event in Atlanta, and as we were preparing for the event backstage, in walked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister and Representative John Lewis. They had both come to support the recruitment of the best and brightest of Morehouse College into the teaching profession. All of a sudden, the magnitude of our work rushed upon me. Secretary Duncan has called education the civil rights issue of our time and being surrounded by these giants of the civil rights movement in Atlanta, a seat of the civil rights movement – it hit home for me that we have a unique moment in history to make a huge difference. I feel a great sense of obligation to seize that moment.
Recently, what has been new and exciting about your work?
Recently, everything has been new and exciting! The TEACH initiative itself is new and exciting. The campaign launched this past September and in a few short months we’ve had a number of events, recorded and broadcast dozens of public service announcements, and put together TEACH.gov, a website that we hope will become the comprehensive place for information about becoming a teacher, including thousands of job listings. (I have to encourage everyone to visit TEACH.gov while I’m at it!)
How do you balance work and family life?
It’s a constant struggle to maintain the right priorities. My whole family lives across the country, but I am lucky enough to have acquired a surrogate East Coast family that keeps me honest. What I’ve found is that the more I keep my ultimate priorities settled, the more other things come into focus. If I keep myself healthy and take care of my family and friends, I feel like the work priorities become easier to manage. There are certainly some late nights and weekend working, but I’m learning that sometimes it’s important to turn off the Blackberry and watch what’s on your DVR (in my case, a lot of 30 Rock reruns!)
Meet other fascinating Administration women by checking out our posts on Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth, Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Claudia Gordon, Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Rebecca Blank, and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathleen Martinez.
Monique Dorsainvil is a Staff Assistant in the Office of Public Engagement focusing on the Council for Women and Girls and LGBT Outreach