There’s been a recent surge in media surrounding Teach For America. To start off with a sense of total transparency, I was a 2007 corps member with the program in Eastern North Carolina where I taught 2nd grade in Rocky Mount; since 2009, I’ve worked on staff with Teach For America in Eastern North Carolina and for the past two years, in South Carolina.
I’ve read much of the recent media and have followed all sorts of opinions on the program since I joined the ranks of Teach For America initially in 2007. I’ve agreed with some opinions, disagreed with others, have felt challenged at times, and affirmed at others.
I’m writing today because, despite all of the frenzy of media currently surrounding the program, I believe the people of Teach For America truly want what’s best for kids and for families that we serve, partner with, and seek kinship with. And I use the word ‘people’ instead of ‘program’ purposefully. Many of the articles and opinions I’ve read portray Teach For America as a giant machine or program or thing – an entity of “other.” But what it really is – at its very core and heart – is a group of people who have come together because they want to ensure that every child in America today has a chance to obtain a truly great education. This doesn’t mean that these people – myself included – know all the answers and how to make that happen tomorrow. And to be honest, I’m not sure anyone today in education knows all of those answers. What it does mean is that the people of Teach For America are committed to figuring out how to make an excellent education for every child in the US a reality.
I would argue wholeheartedly that this commitment lives on past the two years of the corps. I’ve worked with 300+ corps members over the past 5 years and of those, many are still in the classroom today and of those who aren’t in the classroom, the great majority are seeking to put their talent to work in bettering our education system. In early September, I received a request from a former corps member asking me to be a reference for a grant proposal she’s writing. She’s designing a program to ensure that high school students transitioning from the juvenile justice system back into a regular high school setting are set up to graduate from high school on time. This example is only one of the many letters that I get each month asking for recommendations from former corps members who are now pursuing Master’s degrees in school administration, literacy instruction, school counseling, or higher education leadership; entry into programs designed to develop the leadership of those seeking leadership in the non-profit sector; and, of course – and most often – teaching roles in public schools.
All of these individuals are good, compassionate people who genuinely want to commit their lives to bettering our education system and want to partner with those outside of Teach For America for our common cause.
Undoubtedly, the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since joining the corps have come from the veteran teachers in my school who had been teaching for 16 or 20 years before I arrived and from the parent volunteers in my classrooms. The women I met at O.R. Pope Elementary continue to influence my day-to-day decisions and thinking. They taught me that we just must commit ourselves to doing “whatever it takes” for our kids – no matter the odds.
So, the next time you read an article or excerpt on Teach For America, think of our people instead of our program. We are real, committed, full-hearted people who are seeking to put forth our very best effort, thought, and work into making education work for our kids. We don’t know all the answers and are constantly challenging ourselves to improve and figure out how to get better. In fact, this thought process is what we spend much of our time on each week – figuring out how to improve ourselves and our practices for our children. And at our heart of hearts, we are just a group of people coming together to do whatever it takes to ensure our kids get the education they deserve.
**All of the opinions in this blog are my own.**