Education Commentary

Diverse Experience

November 11, 2005 1 min read

I read with great sadness and indignation the interview with Sarah Sentilles, particularly her indictment of Teach for America [“Training Days,” Books, August/September]. Her complaint is that folks who enter Teach for America are simply there to pad their résumés, then move on to what they really want to do.

I am also troubled by her characterization that Teach for America recruits young adults from wealthy white families who have, in her words, “no awareness of their privilege.” She would be wise not to generalize her experience to that of the thousands of other teachers who have served (or are serving) in Teach for America—especially because the diversity of Teach for America teachers is the envy of any professional recruiter (approximately one-third minority, more than half women, and all high achievers).

I lead a school in our nation’s third-poorest county, and more than one-fourth of the faculty are alumni of Teach for America who have made a long-term commitment to education. Students in these teachers’ classrooms have closed the achievement gap, are on track for college success, and consistently outachieve their peers in more affluent communities. These teachers are exceptional at relating to our youth and are embraced by the families we serve. I must admit, however, that my description of Teach for America alumni suffers from the same weakness as Ms. Sentilles’: It is anecdotal in nature. It is, of course, my belief that anecdotes such as mine are part of an overall pattern of Teach for America’s positive impact.

As for her complaint that there are better ways to prepare teachers and that there must be a better long-term solution to the teacher shortage—she’s correct. When colleges of education turn out a consistently well-prepared, intellectually vibrant, and highly effective surplus of teachers, I will be the first to call for the dismantling of Teach for America and will toast its obsolescence with much satisfaction. But until that day, we should applaud the continued efforts and successes of this important movement whose mission is to ensure that all students in this nation attain an excellent education.

Tom Torkelson

Founder and Head of Schools

IDEA Public Schools

Donna, Texas

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2005 edition of Teacher as Diverse Experience