After coming face-to-face with educational inequity in the classroom, many teachers pursue policy-focused roles to make larger systemic changes in education and beyond.
January 20, 2020
At Teach For America, we know it takes leaders working in all sectors to change the inequitable systems that prevent all children from receiving a high-quality education. After working as teachers, our corps members go on to many different careers, continuing to impact children’s lives from any number of industries. In this series, we explore the skills corps members gain from the classroom that help them succeed and deepen their impact as they pursue a variety of careers.
The advocacy skills you develop through your experiences as a Teach for America corps member build a strong foundation for pursuing a career focused on policy, whether in government, academia, think tanks, or elsewhere.
Mayra Macias (Miami-Dade ’10) is now recognized as one of the American Association of Political Consultants’ top “2019 40 Under 40.” Mayra taught language arts at a middle school outside of Miami before accepting a role as a field organizer for President Obama’s 2012 campaign. She is now a highly sought-after organizer in Florida and the executive director of Latino Victory, where she played a critical role in electing the most diverse Congressional class in history in 2018.
Another political powerhouse is Alys Seamans (New Mexico ’12). Alys taught fifth grade and became a national semi-finalist for Teach For America's. After her service, she earned her Master of Public Administration and then became a senior consultant at Deloitte in Washington, D.C. She now provides strategy and analytics consulting services to clients in government and the public sector, and she also co-leads the company’s corporate citizenship strategy for education in the Greater Washington Area.
While a policy career after TFA can take you in different directions, here are four core skills that will help you create social change no matter where your policy career takes you.
Developing Authentic Relationships
A teacher-student relationship is a partnership built on mutual respect and trust, and that principle extends to the workplace as well.
“Former [TFA] teachers are excellent listeners and easily become trusted advisors to clients due to their ability to lead with compassion and empathy,” Alys says.
For policy experts who interact with lawmakers regularly, this is a particularly relevant skill. Lawmakers need to understand, trust, and respect your proposed policies in order to pursue them with integrity.
Mayra builds authentic relationships with policy makers and community members as an organizer. “There have been many times when I’ve been engaging with candidates and they are all at different points in their trajectory—I’m very much reminded of being in the classroom,” she says.
Engaging Others Effectively
Not so many people are born with the ability to speak effectively and comfortably to groups of different sizes across various situations, but many policy-focused roles require doing this frequently. The classroom is an excellent training ground for persuasive public speaking.
Today, U.S. Foreign Service Officer Garvey Pierre (Miami-Dade ’09) engages people from many cultures with the skills he gained while teaching as a corps member. “As a diplomat, you can find yourself in a position where you have to publicly engage a group of people in a setting that takes you out of your comfort zone,” he says.
As a teacher, your class may consist of students from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures unfamiliar to you. TFA corps members must learn to engage with all of their students authentically, remain open to learning from them, and teach effectively across lines of difference.
Engaging your audience also means being able to present complex information concisely and in a manner that is easily understood. Just as teachers need to meet students where they are in their understanding of the material they are learning, those working in policy must plan the delivery of their messages carefully.
“Being a former teacher has helped me build credibility with policymakers, not only because I learned how to communicate and explain issues in an understandable manner but also because of my perspective from the classroom,” Sunny Liu (New Mexico ‘13) says. Sunny works as an analyst in the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, actively advocating for budget and policy recommendations for public schools. “Funnily enough, teaching lawmakers about policy issues is pretty similar to describing learning objectives to students.”
“Funnily enough, teaching lawmakers about policy issues is pretty similar to describing learning objectives to students.”
Firsthand Experience with Educational Inequity
The reality is that most policymakers don’t have the real-world experience they need to make fully informed decisions about issues affecting our schools and the opportunities available to all children. TFA alumni bring that skillset to the table and are crucial voices in those decision-making processes.
“Because of my time in the corps, I believed that the solutions were found in the voices of my students,” says Kalisha Dessources (Greater Philadelphia ’12), who was a former policy advisor for President Obama and is currently the director of the National Collaborative of Young Women's Initiatives. “I was able to see the intersection of so many large policy issues at play. I don’t know where else you get that lens, other than in the classroom.”
If you have a passion for policy, apply to Teach for America to make a difference in your students’ lives while preparing for an impactful career.
It's not just policy! Teach For America alumni are excelling in other industries as well. Learn more from our alums about how they took the skills they learned in the classroom and transformed them into successful careers in business, nonprofits, education, media, and tech.
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