The Power of Teach for America


Today I had one of my students, who is doing an internship with Teach for America (TFA), give a five-minute presentation to our class on the TFA program and encourage students to give some thought to becoming part of the “corps”.

The timing could not have been better; in today’s Wall Street Journal there was a story about an economist at Harvard who studies income inequality. His research indicates that bad neighborhoods and bad teachers rob poor children of the chance to climb into the middle class.

So one possible solution to helping with income inequality is getting great teachers into high-poverty classrooms, and this is where TFA plays such a vital role.

I don’t profess to know much about TFA, so I spent some on its web site today trying to learn a bit more. Here is a description of what TFA is all about:

Everyone has a right to learn. But in our country today, the education you receive depends on where you live, what your parents earn, and the color of your skin.

That’s a serious injustice. And in the national movement to right it, our contribution is the leadership of remarkable people.

Our people—diverse and passionate—start in low-income classrooms, where the stakes are highest. We help them become teachers who can dramatically expand students’ opportunities. But our teachers don’t just teach their students, they learn from them.

They gain a better understanding of the problems and the opportunities in our education system and use those lessons to define their path forward. Many stay in the classroom. Others leave. Both paths matter because to set things right, we need leaders in all areas of education and social justice united in a vision that one day, all kids will have access to an excellent education.

Here are some facts that are noted on the TFA web site:

  • there are more than 16 million children growing up in poverty in the United States.
  • of these 16 million students, one in three will not graduate from high school
  • of those who do graduate high school, only 18% will enter a four-year college
  • ultimately, only nine percent will earn a bachelor’s degree by the age of 25

TFA was founded 25 years ago by Wendy Kopp based on her Princeton University undergraduate thesis as a way to address these issues, and it does so using using a three part approach:

  1. Enlist: TFA recruits remarkable and diverse individuals to become teachers in low-income communities. They commit to teach for two years and are hired by our partner public schools across the country. During these two years they are called corps members.
  2. Develop: TFA trains and supports corps members in the practices of great teachers and leaders. With hard work, perseverance, and strong partnerships with their students, students’ families, and communities, corps members can dramatically increase the opportunities available to their students in school and in life.
  3. Mobilize: Corps members don’t just teach their students, they learn from them. At the end of two years, they use those lessons to choose their path forward. Many stay in the classroom. Others move into politics, school leadership, nonprofit work, advocacy, and more. All of their paths matter because together they form a network—connecting, expanding, and strengthening the movement to give all kids access to a great education.

From what I have read, and from listening to my student talk about it today, TFA appears to be a remarkable organization.

It seems as if our best and our brightest students, for whatever reason, are rarely attracted into becoming a teacher. TFA is doing its part to change that behavior, and I applaud its efforts. Even if its graduates do not pursue a career in teaching, the vast majority them continue to be strong advocates for equal access to great educational opportunities for all students.

Here is a video from the TFA web site that tells just one of many TFA success stories:

I hope some of my business students give TFA some serious thought. It can be a life-changing experience, and still allow them the opportunity to pursue a career in the business world, but with a more enlightened and compassionate perspective.



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