Tisha Little

Teach For America recently hosted The Gathering 2015 in St. Louis with over 400 black staff members in attendance. I was grateful to have the opportunity to reconnect with those I hadn’t seen in a while, coming together to grow individually and collectively, and build new relationships.

The Gathering pushed us to have conversations that may be uncomfortable but necessary and to do some self-reflecting and building as a community of staff dedicated to justice and equity. With the backdrop of St. Louis,  the meaning of this year’s conference was even more critical to our dialogue about recent events that have affected the black community while seeking to understand the pivotal moment we all stand in, united as one people. As it was stated by so many of our guest speakers, including Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson of Jennings School District and David Johns of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, our role is to affirm our students and do this work for them. I could not agree more. The Gathering 2015 was planned with a whole lot of love—the same love that we must show our children.

Tatiana Soto grew up in the Dominican Republic and the Bronx, became President of the Caribbean Student Association at Hobart & William Smith Colleges, worked in Harlem as an advocate for literacy, and just made the decision to teach in Houston as a 2015 Teach For America corps member. During his time at Yale, Seth Kolker supervised community development projects in four rural communities in Nicaragua. In a few months, he’ll be leading a classroom in Rhode Island. Cesar Nije is a senior at UCLA, where he leads an organization charged with cultivating and mentoring students of color. He’ll be teaching this fall as well.  With the close of our final application window last week, these three are among the more than 44,100 people who applied to join our 2015 corps. 

Pass the Chalk

This April, when you visit TeachForAmerica.org, you’ll see a brand-new community for education advocates, one created by and for the people who matter most: teachers, students, parents, administrators—and other engaged citizens just like you.

We’ve designed our new home on the web with your preferences in mind. You told us what you want, and we’re delivering: stories you can’t forget, information at your fingertips, and most importantly, easy actions you can take to support and impact your community.

Our new website will connect you with everything you need to help make educational inequity a thing of the past.

Erica Swanson’s (GNO ’14) ninth graders know exactly how they’re doing in her class. Her students’ lives are full of uncertainty—but they know that if they bring in their homework each day, it gets noticed. When they show good work on an end-of-class exit ticket, it gets noticed. When they stay focused and avoid distraction—it’s noticed. Erica’s classroom at Bonnabel High School in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, is full of all types of information, feedback and data. This helps her kids feel affirmation and see where they need to grow—but it also helps Erica make the greatest impact for every single one of them.

At Teach For America, we do the same thing. As the largest preparer of teachers for low-income communities nationwide, it’s important that we understand both our strengths and the areas in which we need to get better. Much of that comes from listening to our students, families and partners in communities, and turning their feedback into action. But hard data and formal evaluation are also essential.

We recently got the results of an independent study on our pre-K and elementary teachers, and the data confirm other evidence we’ve seen so far—Teach For America is having a positive impact on kids. 

Vincent Mo

Vincent Mo is an engineering manager at Google and friend of TFA alum Gary Cheng (Houston '04). Vincent recently reached out to a prospective corps member and engineering major to discuss the benefits of giving back and gaining real-world experience in the classroom as a programmer. His note is excerpted below.

globe

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:

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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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