A few weeks ago, a student changed my life. I’m currently in my sophomore year at Cornell University and have been considering exploring my passion for education and community building through Teach For America.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in a TFA teacher’s classroom through TFA’s One Week For America program, which paired 31 selected college students with TFA teachers across NYC. We spent our winter break immersed in New York’s public schools, getting a hands-on feel for what it’s like to be a teacher. We spent our days in the classroom with students, and our evenings in workshops where we learned more about the teaching profession.

As a product of New York City Public Schools, I was moved by the students I met. I grew up in a low-income community just like theirs, and I stood in their shoes only a decade ago. I know their struggles, their doubts, and the life they are dreaming about. I was determined to prove to them that they could exceed their own expectations. There was one student in particular who stuck with me, but I wasn’t sure she saw the potential in herself that I did—so I wrote her a letter.

luke glaser

After spending my entire life in a city, I became a rural educator. Aesthetically, my urban hometown and new rural home seem worlds apart. Main Street in Louisville, my hometown, is crossed daily by thousands of pedestrians and drivers, while Main Street in Hazard, Kentucky, where I teach, hosts only the occasional pedestrian strolling past its local businesses, banks, and churches. Now in my second year teaching math at Hazard High School, I’ve learned urban and rural main streets share much more than a name. 

Let’s be honest: a rural young professional is not what mainstream culture considers traditional (or cool). There are no high rise lofts or Uber drivers, and few late-night venues stay open past midnight. Yet, for what could be perceived as a less-than-glamorous way to spend one’s twenties, I embrace and love the experiences I have had in my city of 4,500.

It’s Friday afternoon, and students are flooding past me in joyous celebration of their upcoming vacation. It had been a torturous Friday of all Fridays (aren’t they all?), and I was ready to partake in some celebrations of my own with my colleagues when I ran across one of the students who had helped make my Friday particularly wearing. I was expecting nothing short of a cold shoulder when she passed by, but was both surprised and relieved when she stopped dead center in front of me to ask a question I have heard too many times this school year.

“Ms. Escobar, why don’t you like me anymore?” she asked.

Far from astounded, I knew I had heard her correctly, and she stared, waiting for my response. “We used to be friends,” she said. “And now you’re treating me differently. You’re not the same.” I responded like I have to almost all of the students who have confronted me with similar arguments this year, and I said, “Shani, I haven’t changed. I’m holding you to the same standards as everyone else, and you don’t want to hop on board.”

Teach For America’s Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships team

On Saturday, January 24 a group of about 50 students aged 9-13 and their chaperones attended a professional hockey game in Rapid City, South Dakota (many for the first time). The outing was a reward; the students were part of the school’s 21st Century program and had demonstrated academic success. A fellow attendee not affiliated with the group described the students as “some of the best behaved he’s seen.”

During the third period of the game, the group was forced to leave out of concerns for their safety. From the suite above where the students sat in the stands, intoxicated individuals allegedly poured beer on the students and peppered them with racially-motivated slurs.

The management of both the hockey arena and the company who owns the suite have issued statements apologizing for what happened. Police are investigating the incident.

And there’s a good chance this is the first you’re hearing of it.

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.

The Friday Five is Teach For America's weekly roundup of education news, stories, and links that made us think. 

cara mcclellan

It was the third time I had to stop because LeShawn was talking out of turn. “You owe me time,” I said, a shorthand that he knew meant he would be serving detention during gym class. Gym was one of his favorite classes, and I knew he was upset. I watched his reaction to make sure he did not show his feelings inappropriately. Instead he just shook his head and looked down. Although he was known around the building as a troublemaker, he usually did well in my class, and I could tell he was embarrassed that he had gotten in trouble.

As I started lining the class up for gym and reminded him he was staying for detention, I heard him mumble, “Man, I wish I had a real black teacher. Black teachers don’t give detention.”

Zarabeth Davis

“Mommy, mommy!  Come look at our hands!” my 4 year old exclaimed as we entered his preschool one morning. His class has been talking about “helping hands” and how to care for one another in their classroom community. He wanted to show me his masterpiece: a rainbow striped handprint over-emphasizing the green band, his favorite color. He then showed me the helper chart and used his strong pre-literacy skills to explain all of the important classroom jobs and which of his friends would be doing what jobs.

The growth young children make as they enter their preschool years is always amazing to see as a classroom teacher; the independence they develop, the boom in their language, the way their minds process the world through why questions, and how their world begins to shift from ego-centric to more mindful of others and the different perspectives of the world. Now that I’m on the parent side of that development, I truly appreciate strong teachers and how they orchestrate so much of this growth through their thoughtful, intentional work.    

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

Raven Bailey

Raven Bailey is a 12th grade student and member of Let’s Innovate Through Education working to empower students to develop their own businesses or nonprofits for their communities. Hardy Farrow is a Social Studies teacher at Power Center Academy in Memphis, TN. He is also the creator of Let’s Innovate Through Education, and a 2013 Teach For America-Memphis corps member.

When I was in the 11th grade, I was plagued with a rare affliction that attacked my work ethic, corrupted my judgment, and induced a state of severe lack of interest and focus: I had a bad case of Junioritis. As a result of this truly devastating condition, I began to suffer fits of procrastination, which often led me to neglect most of my academic responsibilities. In some classes I was able to conceal my problem and get by without the slightest effort. Unfortunately, it was in my most important classes in which I had begun to submit to the condition and fall through the cracks.


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