Education Opinion

Spreading the movement

By Jessica Shyu — June 19, 2007 2 min read
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Teach with examples. Offer real-life scenarios. Use visuals if appropriate.

Less than two weeks ago, I made my official transition from Teach for America corps member to program director by helping usher in almost 100 energetic and committed new teachers to the Rio Grande Valley. On their second evening in the sticky heat of South Texas, I helped facilitate a discussion with a small group of new teachers on their roles as leaders in the community. One of the points we discussed was the organizational theory of change.

The theory is two-pronged: In the short term, it means teachers will work hard to make changes in their classrooms and work to invest others around them about ending educational inequity. In the long term, it means continuing to invest others in this goal and to work toward closing the achievement gap no matter where your professional path has taken you. The plan is for everyone, TFA or not, to work toward this shared goal.

My group of teachers got it. But what impressed me more were their ideas on how to convince non-Teach for America teachers to join the movement. They brainstormed ideas on motivating whole communities and convincing people that educational inequity could be closed—starting with their own parents. These new corps members even imagined sending TFA coffee mugs to all alums so that it could perhaps spark many a discussion on educational inequity around office water coolers.

So it made me cringe when I read the Post’s piece on D.C. Mayor Fenty’s pick to lead the District’s public schools, Michelle Rhee. Teach for America as an insurgency? World domination? Sure, many TFA alums are emerging as leaders of schools and other sectors. But to me, the point isn’t to take over the system. The point is to energize everyone to take over the system together.

It also turns away from the less advertised goal of the organization: The only way the achievement gap will be closed is if more and more people join in the cause to demand better teachers and administrators, to tutor kids after school, to provide good jobs for parents, and to clean up neighborhoods. But to suggest that Teach for America will take over and fix everything shifts the responsibility away from the rest of the community.

P.S.—I’m also not so impressed by the article’s portrayal of Teach for America’s apparent disdain for traditional teacher prep programs. There are good ed programs, there are bad ed programs, and there are simply amazing ed programs out there. Who would have thought Western New Mexico University’s Gallup branch has an incredible special education masters program?

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.