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5 Reasons to Teach in Greater New Orleans

Greater New Orleans, home to extraordinary, historical culture, is full of opportunities to make a difference for students and communities.

Teach For America Greater New Orleans

January 24, 2020

In a state with historically high levels of poverty and systemic inequity, New Orleans’ education system has consistently struggled to meet the needs of our students.  When New Orleans’ first Teach For America corps members began their work in 1990, only 40 percent of students were graduating from high school. However, that reality is beginning to change as students are making strides in their achievements and outcomes. Today, with guidance and support from dedicated leaders in the community and with TFA embedded in New Orleans’ public school system, the New Orleans graduation rate is 78 percent.

This achievement is significant, but there’s still more to be done. By joining the corps in Greater New Orleans (GNO), you’ll be teaching in a place where innovative educational styles are needed and are received with deep gratitude, and where traditional and charter schools alike welcome dedicated, determined teachers into their classrooms. Here are just a few of the amazing things that come with that territory.

You’ll Teach in a Trailblazing Region for Educational Equity

Particularly in the years after Hurricane Katrina, Teach For America has worked alongside partners and allies to help catalyze rapid growth in student achievement.

A decade ago, 62 percent of students attended a failing school. That number was down to only 8 percent in 2018. In addition, the proportion of the city’s public school students in third through eighth grade who score “Basic” or above on statewide exams has increased from 25 to 63 percent. On top of all that, the gap between New Orleans students’ performance and their statewide peers has decreased from 23 percentage points to six.

As a TFA corps member working in GNO, caring about students and the quality of their education is a necessity. This is clear to Jeffrey Fingerman, managing director of leadership development for Teach For America Greater New Orleans and a 2003 GNO alum. He recalls a moment when he realized just how much those around him cared about educational equity: "I recently attended a policy discussion on public education... The room was full of impressive and dedicated education leaders discussing how we can continue to move toward a more equitable system in our city. After I introduced myself and said where I work, over half the room shared that they were either a TFA alum themselves, or they worked closely with a TFA alum." 

TFA corps members become strong advocates for educational equity and go on to continue promoting change in this region, whether by remaining in schools—as teachers, principals, or in other roles—or from any number of positions in the private, nonprofit, and governmental sectors. 

You’ll Be Immersed in a Historic, Soulful Culture

If you ask New Orleans corps members what they love about this region, the culture, the heritage, and the people inevitably top the list. It’s not an accident that one of the city’s official mottos is “history on every street corner”: The city is full of historic buildings, great traditions, and vibrant personalities that make it a truly unique place to call “home.”

When you come to GNO, you’ll be immersed in that culture every day. More than 130 festivals take place in New Orleans every year, celebrating art, music, literature, charitable causes, film, food, and culture. As Jefferey put it, “My favorite thing about GNO is the sound of a brass band in the street.”

On top of all that, you’ll be the envy of foodies everywhere. It’s no understatement to call GNO’s cuisine “legendary.” Many tourists visit New Orleans specifically to experience the mouthwatering local food that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. From truck-served po’ boys to piping hot gumbo, fresher-than-fresh seafood, and colorful Mardi Gras king cakes, New Orleans’ cuisine is truly unforgettable.

The GNO community immerses TFA members in a rich and expansive group of individuals that creates lifelong bonds. 

You’ll Create Lasting Relationships

TFA corps members have the opportunity to change their students’ lives each and every day. This happens in the classroom and through the relationships teachers develop with their students. It's clear that students and teachers make an impact on each other.

"Teaching is a profound act of leadership that will change you, and the best way to contribute to systemic change in the short term is to build deep, lasting relationships with students, families, and colleagues," says Emily Klein Morris, director of district and school partnerships at Teach For America Greater New Orleans and a 1999 GNO alum.

Being a leader within a community like the GNO region may not be an easy task, but building relationships comes naturally to those who interact with and see their students daily. 

While teachers can't change an entire education system by themselves, they can build long-lasting relationships with individuals and communities in their region to enact change in the day-to-day life of students and change their trajectory for the future. Being a courageous leader helps inspire students to make achievements within the GNO region. 

You'll Be Surrounded by Innovators

Within the Orleans Parish public school system, 35 percent of open-enrollment schools have a TFA alum as a school leader. With so much change that's happened in the region, it's evident that TFA members care deeply about Greater New Orleans and its students, and are working together to innovate and enact change.

One example is Jenny Dennis Carey, a 2005 New York City Teach For America alum who moved to New Orleans and was named the 2020 Louisiana principal of the year for her work leading the KIPP East Community Primary. 

"Without Teach For America, I would never have become a teacher,” Jenny says. “I think that Teach For America made me love teaching and being part of a school. Being a corps member exposed me to the inequalities that exist.”

In GNO, educators are encouraged to take innovative approaches to leadership and teaching, because it works. Our corps members’ creativity has helped make GNO a leader in forward-thinking education.

Jenny’s leadership is an example of how her experience as a corps member has shaped her leadership as a principal.

“KIPP East Community Primary has a zero suspension policy,” Jenny says. “Just like we teach our students division and close-reading, we also help them grow in their ability to work with others, to persevere through hard problems, and to be proud of themselves. We’re focused on giving students what they need to be successful.”

You’ll Be Part of an Enduring Legacy

TFA’s presence in Greater New Orleans consisted of only 45 corps members in 1990, but those 45 exceptional leaders laid the groundwork for a lasting legacy. Today, there are more than 500 TFA corps members and alumni in classrooms throughout the region, and more than 50 alumni serving in school or charter management leadership roles.

"Moving to GNO was life-changing,” Emily says. “I found family in my fellow Teach For America corps members and the community. I still keep in touch with my students (who are now old enough to apply to TFA themselves!) and have loved celebrating their accomplishments with them."

With 90 percent of our 1,100 alumni in Greater New Orleans working to address issues related to equity and/or education, TFA alumni are creating real and lasting impact in communities across the city. Alumni are leading equity-focused organizations like Propeller and EdNavigator. They’re also founding and leading workforce development programs for young people, like the Youth Empowerment Project and unCommon Construction. While working alongside our community partners, TFA alumni in GNO are bringing new ideas into the region that are changing outcomes for our friends, neighbors, and students.

If you teach in GNO, you’ll make a difference as an individual. At the same time, you’ll also be a part of a community that has been making a difference for decades—and we can’t get enough of this region, so that’s not changing anytime soon. To be a part of it, learn more about Teach For America Greater New Orleans—and apply to the 2020 Teach For America corps today.