Teaching Profession

Executed Photojournalist Was Teach For America Alumnus

By Anthony Rebora — August 20, 2014 2 min read
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James Foley, the missing American photojournalist who was executed this week by the Islamic State militant group operating in Iraq and Syria, was known for his courage and fierce commitment to humane causes. He was also, as many news outlets are reporting, a former teacher.

A native of New Hampshire, Foley graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1996 and became a Teach For America corps member the same year. According to TFA, he taught 5th grade bilingual education from 1996 to 1999 at Lowell Elementary School in Phoenix.

“Jim always had a remarkable spirit,” TFA said in a statement Wednesday. “As a passionate teacher, he devoted his time to ensuring the success of every student—and as a journalist, he was committed to seeking the truth and reporting with the utmost integrity. He will be severely missed by all of those whose lives he touched.”

In blog post written in 2013 after his initial disappearance in Syria, Sarah Fang, a TFA alum who trained with Foley, remembered him as an idealist who was consummately devoted to his students. “As a teacher, Jim dedicated hours to his middle school social studies students at Lowell School,” she wrote, “and stayed in touch even when he was no longer their teacher.”

Fang also recalled that Foley would “promise students that he’d take them to the Castles and Coasters amusement park if they would come to class every day. Jim is always true to his word.”

According a 2013 story in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foley subsequently taught “reading and writing to inmates” in a vocational-rehabilitation program in Chicago.

After obtaining a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2008, Foley was drawn to covering areas of conflict. His work, according to a CNN report, sought to show “humanity amid the horror of war.”

Foley was abducted in 2012 while on assignment in Syria for the Boston-based GlobalPost. On Tuesday, the Islamic-militant group ISIS posted a graphic video on the Internet (now removed) purportedly showing his beheading—apparently in retaliation for the recent U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people,” Foley’s mother wrote on Facebook.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with Jim’s family, friends, and all of his loved ones at this most difficult time,” TFA said in its statement.

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Photo: American journalist James Foley is shown in a November 2012 photograph while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria.--Nicole Tung/Freejamesfoley.org/AP-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.