This weekend thousands of corps members, alumni and staff will converge in Washington, D.C., for Teach For America’s (TFA) 25th anniversary. While it is a time for celebration, it is also an opportunity for critics of TFA to debate its value.
As one of TFA’s charter corps members, I may be admittedly quick to defend an organization that not only shaped my career, but truly altered the course of my life. My experience teaching in South Central Los Angeles ignited a passion—or more accurately, a fury—that continues to this day.
But given the crude criticisms launched at TFA—especially that its ulterior motive is school-system “privatization”—I thought it was a good time to sit down with Wendy Kopp and discuss the origin and vision of TFA.
Wendy prioritized teacher diversity from the inception of Teach For America.
What message do we send students when they don’t see themselves among those who represent knowledge, learning and leadership?
TFA is much more diverse than the teaching force overall: Nearly 50 percent of this year’s corps are people of color, compared to less than 20 percent in the teaching force as a whole. And, as is widely known, all corps members go through a highly-selective process based on academic success, commitment to equality and leadership ability.
While many, like me, do leave the classroom after the two-year commitment, we are still fighting to transform the system at a national level to serve all children equally.
I personally hope to teach children again, but for now I am committed to teaching adults about the stakes involved in letting our school system continue to operate as it does.