Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yo Mista Goes to Washington

I just spent the weekend in Washington D.C. to attend Teach for America’s 20th anniversary summit. Honestly, it’s hard to believe Teach for America (TFA) has been around for twenty years, but I guess that’s because education reform is just now getting the media attention it’s deserved for the last forty years.

Opening Plenary Session on Saturday, February 12th
Photo credit: ABCDE

The summit was sold out with over 11,000 TFA corps members and alumni in attendance. As we crowded into the Washington Convention Center for the opening speaker, I remember feeling incredibly proud: I am part of a national movement to ensure every child in this country gets a damn good education, regardless of where they’re born or how rich their parents are. And I was one of 11,000 there who believed that could happen one day. That was kind of fucking cool.

Here's a link to the opening plenary session.

A few things I learned at the summit:
  1. Change starts with the power and willingness of the young (if you disagree, refer to exhibit A: Egypt in 2011)
  2. This new focus on “teacher accountability” is misguided and another way for a broken system to remain in power; we need new and effective leadership, not rating systems based on test scores
  3. Stop ridiculing teacher unions: they’re doing their job to protect all teachers no matter what, and they’re damn good at it. Learn from them if you want to beat them.
  4. Placing blame for poor student achievement solely on lack of parental involvement is wrong; when parents actually want to get involved, most schools don’t have systems in place for positive and effective involvement within the school.
  5. The head of the IRS is a former TFA corps member and that’s why the FAFSA is now extremely easy to fill out. Small world.
  6. John Legend is a TFA Board Member, WTF?
Maybe I’ll write more about what the speakers had to say in a later post; I really just want to use this space to remind myself how incredible this experience was. Having had work experience in the corporate world, I really don’t need too many reminders of what life was like working an unfulfilling job. This weekend made me feel even better about what I do. It strangely reenergized me for the good fight. Plus, it’s always great to know you’re doing something that other top graduates now seek to do: teach.

I think it’s sad TFA gets a lot of criticism for it’s “two years and out” model. Yes, some criticisms are legitimate, for example: two years isn’t nearly enough time for teachers to hone their crafts. But, at the end of the day, education should be about recruiting top tier, hard-working talent. Why is it that all you need to teach is a certification? How come GPA, college and extra-curricular activities in college really don’t matter? How come public schools don’t set up shop at career fairs on college campuses to actively recruit talent?

In high school, I remember discussing careers with my fellow AP/honors class peers. We were all highly motivated, straight-A students and for us, it was "common knowledge" that we, the “A” students would work corporate jobs or become doctors, the “B” students would work in politics and the “C” students would become teachers. The statement sounds elitist, but could you blame us? This is the reality today. In nations with the highest student achievement, the top third of graduates enter into some field of education. This needs to change, and I don’t see any other programs besides TFA doing anything about it.

I want to end this post by talking about a comment that stuck out to me this weekend. On Saturday, I attended a small panel session regarding the progress of Teach for All, a global partnership amongst countries implementing the TFA model. The CEO of Teach First (Britain’s version of TFA) was talking about the hurdles and criticisms he faced when attempting to get the program off the ground. Critics of the program thought they would never be able to recruit top tier college graduates to teach after college. The critics said “volunteerism” and “being a do-gooder” were American-like ideals that would not work elsewhere. Teach First is now one of the largest recruiters at Cambridge and Oxford.

The belief that "the best of the best" simply aren't interested in helping others is a lie spread all over the world.


Boris said...

Hey, did you get a chance to meet the founder of Teach for Bulgaria, Evgenia Peeva? She's a high school friend of mine

Here's the website in case you're interested

Yo Mista said...

No way! I was sitting right across from her in the session!

The only reason I didn't introduce myself or drop your name was because I figured there was no way in hell all Bulgarians know each other.

I stand corrected.

Yo Mista said...

BTW - She had some very interesting things to say, particularly about the treatment of the gypsy population in public schools.