closing the gap

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 26 2008


This week has been filled with a lot of useful information that will (in TFA-speak) set us up for success during Institute, also known as the 5 weeks of teaching boot-camp. We have spent time discussing TFA’s five core values (relentless pursuit of results, respect and humility, integrity, sense of possibility, and my personal favorite, disciplined thought). Core values are kind of cheesy, but they really do give us a framework in which to operate in the classroom and as teachers. Also, we’ve talked about professionalism, and how we are now respresentatives of Teach for America, which means what we do, what we say and how we act affects people’s perception of this organization, our community, our school and our students. As a result, we had a specific session to learn how to talk about our teaching experiences. What we talked about in the session that most affected me was this interesting information-

When the general population is polled and asked the top 3 causes of the achievement gap in the US they say the following:

students can’t learn, the effects of poverty are too great, and parents do not value education

When Teach for America corps members and alumni are asked the same question, they respond with:

low teacher quality, lack of leadership in schools, and low expectations

From this disparity we discussed how the stories we tell and our reflections we make have the potential to change the prevailing ideology that the achievement gap cannot be eliminated. We practiced what we would say to the person sitting next to us on the plane/train/bus when he or she asks us “So, what do you do?”

As an end to our day, we heard Wendy Kopp speak. Wendy, as she is known, is the founder and CEO of TFA. For those of you that do not know, she thought of TFA in her senior year at Princeton University in 1989 and since has built a movement. In 1990, 500 corps members were placed in schools, and this year, 3700 corps members were placed all around the country with a goal to eliminate the achievement gap in their classroom (and note that those 3700 were selected out of about 25,000 applicants). The majority of her 90 minutes spent with us (580 corps members in NYC) today was a question and answer session. Though I was nervous, I raised my hand and asked a question. I asked her:

“I’ve heard so many times over the past weeks and months how hard this job is going to be, and how we will be working longer hours from our investment banking friends. However, I know that I and many other people in this room have suffered from a certain stigma against teachers. I’ve been told that teaching is a waste of my time. What is teach for america doing to help eliminate this negative stigma against teaching as a profession?”

She responded that TFA has done a lot through its corps members, and mostly it’s alumni to bring attention to the profession as admirable work. She said that 20 years ago, if you told someone that 25,000 top recent college graduates would apply to teach in the nations lowest performing urban and rural schools, they would think you were crazy! Along those lines, in Washington DC, where TFA Alumnae Michelle Rhee is the new schools chancellor, the district is set to roll out a new compensation package that will pay starting teachers something around $60,000! I don’t think (and I know Wendy doesn’t either) that pay alone will bring teaching up to its right perception in the eyes of many. However, I believe that if this country can dramatically improve teacher quality and also create awareness about the difficulty, but possibility, involved in this work, this stigma will change.

At the end of the session, my star-struck suite-mate, Emily, decided she wanted a photo with Wendy. So, after waiting for her to sign autograph after autograph (she really is a celebrity to us!), we got to take a photo with her. =)

2 Responses

  1. Abby Goldware

    I really like this entry. And that was a good question because I know it was something that you struggled with a bit.

    Also, I want to see the picture you took.

    Sam, you’re going to do so many good things there with some 9th graders and some algebra I.

    Love you! Have a great weekend!

  2. Kate

    post the pic! i mean, if you want to.

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