“My education was dismal. I went to a series of schools for mentally disturbed teachers.”
In the great debate about the deteriorating quality of American public school education, the quality and talent of America’s educators is often questioned. The answer to the headline question – is your kid’s teacher an ivy leaguer – is likely NO. Ivy Leaguers are meant for more prosperous careers. They are not only the best and brightest but also among the nation’s wealthiest college students. Many go on to top business and law schools, become captains of industry and our leading politicians.
Teachers more typically come from state colleges and universities. They are underpaid, overworked and much maligned. The quality of their training is questioned; as is their effectiveness.
I recently was introduced to a contemporary who had just retired from a 30 year teaching career. What an eye opener. Imagine, if you will, heading out for work every day with an absolute requirement that you be “ON” at 7:30. By ON, I mean ready for anything. Forget that long walk with your dog. Skip the trip to the gym. That third cup of coffee will have to wait until after 3rd period.
No matter if you are just too tired, too bored or just fed up. There is an honor student wanting to show her prowess; a malcontent disrupting your class; or, worse, a physical threat that must be contained.
Meanwhile, we read news reports almost daily that tell us about deteriorating student performance and Washington’s plans to reverse that course. Billions have been spent but the news keeps getting worse anyway.
A career in teaching is both physically and emotionally challenging. Why would an Ivy Leaguer want that job when a more luxurious future awaits elsewhere?
Teach for America.
Ignoring the national debate and foregoing government funding, a non-profit organization called Teach for America (TFA) has been working for the last 20 years to solve to improve education from the front lines.
Recently, the NY Times published an article about how difficult it is for graduates of Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth to be accepted by Teach for America. With only 4500 openings, less than 10% of applicants are admitted. Imagine if you will, America’s best and brightest college grads going into the teaching profession.
TFA doesn’t just drop these young recruits into the classroom. It provides a five week summer course in classroom practices before assigning its graduates to teach in inner city and rural schools. The organization sets goals for its teachers and assigns Program Directors to follow up and monitor the members of its “corps”. According to Education Week magazine, each of TFA’s corps members is expected to achieve at least one of the following goals: “…move student learning forward at least 1 ½ grade levels, close achievement gaps by 20 percent, or ensure that 80 percent of students have met grade-level standards.”
But, this blog is not about education; it’s about leadership. What struck me about the Times article was the number of Ivy League grads who applied. Eighteen percent of Yale and Harvard undergrads applied. Those rejected had to settle for alternatives like becoming a Fulbright Scholar, attending University of Virginia Law School or teaching at their alma mater.
TFA’s founder is Wendy Kopp who proposed the creation of Teach for America in her undergraduate thesis at Princeton – and then followed through upon graduation!!
So, when we ask the question that serves as the theme of this blog – Who Will Lead? – we need look no further than Wendy Kopp and the 4500 college grads who, this year, will dedicate their considerable intellect and energy to the task of improving student achievement throughout the United States.
Each sacrificed other opportunities to become teachers. Each dedicated themselves to making a contribution. Each of them will lead.