In the past few weeks, tragic incidents have occurred in multiple Muslim communities around the United States and Canada. The thoughts below are my own but based on reactions I have heard and received from Teach For America staff, alumni, family, and friends who have shared their thoughts and feelings with me. I encourage you to dig through the links included here and read more about the recent incidents that are taking place in some of our communities and how they are being described.       

Today, the New York Times published an article on a trend we’re seeing this year across the education field at large—a dip in interest in entering teaching. We addressed this trend in a recent piece for the Huffington Post—looking into some of the reasons behind it, and also the ways we’re feeling that dip here at Teach For America.

While our partners’ needs for corps members and alumni are at an all-time high, persuading young Americans to choose this work is tougher than ever. In the shadow of the recession, college graduates are moving away from public and service-oriented work and gravitating towards professions they perceive as more stable and financially sustainable. The polarized conversation around education isn’t helping, either.

Overall, we’re confident that the current dip we and others are seeing will pass. And while the decrease in interest we’re seeing this season will be painful for our school partners and their students who are counting on us for 6,000 teachers, it’s critical to keep the macro trend of the last 15 years in mind. Over that longer period, we’ve seen significantly more interest from our next generation of leaders in teaching in low-income communities, be it through TFA, TNTP, or other pathways.

For the last 15 years, Teach For America has grown rapidly, driven by strong demand from schools for more corps members and the knowledge that it would take many, many people for the broader movement to operate at the scale of the problem we’re working to address. Since 2000, we’ve grown from nearly 1,500 corps members teaching in 15 regions, to 10,600 corps members teaching in 50 regions. In that same period, our alumni base has increased from 3,600 alumni to 37,000. This period of sustained growth set much of the groundwork for the work we’re doing now, and as we approach our 25th anniversary year, we thought it made sense to get some help drawing out the lessons of the last era.

Eight months ago we enlisted the Bellwether group to do just that. Bellwether is a nonprofit that works with schools, districts, and organizations across the education sector to help them have the strongest impact for kids. In our case, Bellwether conducted an independent study of our data and history to help us understand how we can improve for the future. The resulting report which was released today is an independent, transparent, and comprehensive look at our growth era. Over the course of 90 pages, the report covers almost every aspect of our organizational evolution through that period—from our finances and structure, to our culture and core values. Bellwether wrote a good synopsis of the report for RealClearEducation

Shayla Yellowhair

As the daughter of a Law Enforcement Officer who has served for almost 30 years, I have always been keenly aware of the issues that affect the families of police officers. Growing up hearing the stories of my people and the difficulties of living in rural Native communities, as well as feeling the pain of loss, has colored the way I view the world around me and how I raise my two children.

But here’s the problem that I’ve encountered all my life:  despite the stories that are told in the media about poverty and alcoholism on Native lands, the vast majority of them are not ours. The truth is, as Native people, the fight for recognition as living, breathing, human beings in 2015 is real. We constantly fight against stereotypes created to erase individuality inherent in a Native person, created by those in power, and perpetuated by mass media. We have to fight to remind everyone that we aren’t ancient relics (though we strive to protect our traditions), that we haven’t died off (though we know death too well), and that we know the sides of history that are not told in textbooks. Our truth is often justified away, along with our rights as dual citizens, the original inhabitants and stewards of our land and languages, in the name of manifest destiny, assimilation, natural resources, and the economy.

So when Michael Brown was killed unarmed, in broad daylight, and left in the middle of the street to die, I wasn’t surprised by the hurt that I felt because I have known loss; or by any of the facts of his death necessarily. This is the experience of so many of our Native people, whether they die from the crippling effects of alcoholism, exposure during the winter, homelessness, overzealous officers, or simply being out numbered in cities that depend on the alcohol sales and the institutional racism to thrive. 

Pass the Chalk

Nationwide, demand for great educators is as high as ever. Millions of students growing up in poverty lack the quality education that will allow them to succeed. Teach For America is committed to recruiting as many leaders as possible to provide an excellent education to children in low-income areas—but we need your help.

Here are four quick ways you can help us recruit the next generation of teachers:

Pass the Chalk

This holiday season, as you gather together with family and friends, please accept our sincere thanks for your commitment to our country’s children and educational equality. Please share this image and know that the joy it depicts is in part because of the tireless efforts of educators and supporters like you—those dedicated to helping all students reach their full potential.

Have a very happy holiday season, and we'll see you again in 2015!


Gary James

My heart is heavy after the non-indictment decisions for the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. My heart isn’t heavy because the indictment decisions were a surprise. It’s heavy because the decisions weren’t a surprise. It’s heavy because I can recount at least two of my own interactions with the police where I questioned my safety. It’s heavy because a black person is killed by the police, a security guard, or vigilante on average every 28 hours. And it’s heavy because many of the kids and communities our corps members serve may internalize the idea that their lives don’t matter to the majority of the country, that they or their loved ones are just a bullet or negative interaction away from becoming a hashtag.

In our work, we focus on the way the education system doesn’t work for all kids, specifically poor kids and kids of color. But disparities in the education system are just one example of the disparities that exist in most systems in our country. The financial system. The economic system. The criminal justice system. Our systems of housing, voting, immigration, and the list goes on. It’s not just that these systems are broken. It’s that they were not designed to include all Americans. One quote I’ve seen recently and repeatedly is that “a system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.” That’s a heavy statement. It’s an uncomfortable statement. But I think it’s one we should sit with. Sometimes we have to just sit with discomfort because we can’t always tie the truth with a bow.

Pass the Chalk

The shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has settled a bit, and now we’re turning our lens to those in need on Giving Tuesday. First launched in 2012, Giving Tuesday has expanded into a much-anticipated annual event for those looking to give back and celebrate generosity.

At Teach For America (TFA), we’re keenly aware of a pressing need that keeps us working every day: Only 1 in 10 students growing up in poverty will graduate from college. You can help us change this. For just $5 a day, you can sponsor a day of learning for five students who lack educational opportunity because of circumstances beyond their control.

When I sat waiting on Monday evening for a decision in the possible indictment of Officer Wilson, I immediately recalled the moment I found out I was carrying a little black boy in my womb. The Trayvon Martin shooting was fresh in my mind, and I thought about how my skin color would be passed down, and my unborn son would be judged, undervalued, and treated poorly as a result.

Because of his race coupled with his gender, my son Jackson entered this world susceptible to poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, poor health, mass incarceration, gun violence, police brutality, and racial profiling. His ability to stave off many of these ills will be our responsibility, as his parents, and that is a heavy toll. We are ready for the challenge.

Growing up, I visited the reservation almost every weekend, stayed during summer break, and ate tonoo’ (seaweed) and taa'oo' (acorn mush). My dad and I often had talks about what it was like for him in the world and the history of my family and our people. Our conversations always seemed to lead to discussions about being Pomo—something that has molded my self-identity. To some, I don’t look like a stereotypical Native. As a child, and even today, I often hear, “Oh wow, you don’t look American Indian” or “But you’re not a real Native.”


About Us

We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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The thoughts, ideas, and opinions expressed on Pass the Chalk are the responsibility of individual bloggers. Unless explicitly stated, blog posts do not represent the views of Teach For America as an organization. 

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