Erin was motivated to become a teacher after seeing the social unrest of the Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles. She realised that such things could be prevented if the economic playing field was made more equal by giving children educational opportunities. She has taught in environments of at-risk students ever since. Many of her students have had first-hand exposure to gang violence and racially divided communities. Some have lost many friends to gang warfare.
Erin tackled the contrast between schoolwork and the ordinary lives of her students by focusing on issues and struggles that had some relation to their own circumstances. She has encouraged journaling as a way for them to express themselves (as opposed to violence or other anti-social behavior). This in turn led to a book co-authored with her students, The Freedom Writer’s Diary, which became a New York Times bestseller and has achieved coverage around the world. The book and its creation have now been adapted to film with Hilary Swank playing the role of Erin! Subsequently, 100% of Erin’s students (who were failing classes previously) have successfully graduated high school, and she has adapted her methods to a progressive teaching curriculum called The Freedom Writer’s Method. Her Teacher’s Guide is published by Random House and she has been the recipient of many different Teacher of the Year awards.
If awarded the funds, Erin would donate them to her Freedom Writers Foundation, using the money to give scholarships to teachers abroad to attend her Freedom Writers Institute in California, providing professional development and support to many teachers in the US and abroad.