Colgate for America

Last week, the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education and two of its student volunteer groups, Let’s Get Ready and Hamilton Central Tutoring, co-hosted a Brown Bag discussion with Teach For America (TFA) about education and equity. As soon-to-be teachers, we were hoping for a robust discussion of the challenges that educators in low income communities must overcome. Three teachers sat on our panel, including two TFA corps members. We were disappointed to find that the Q&A session took a narrow focus and was guided by misinformation. We’d like to clarify some of the topics discussed and encourage the Colgate community to continue the conversation about how we can expand opportunity for all children.

Much of the conversation centered on the experience of members of the TFA corps. We’ll be joining the corps in Chicago and Miami, inspired by our own individual experience and a commitment to provide students growing up in poverty with an excellent education. Mara is eager to serve as both a mentor and an educator. Heather cannot wait to do her part in closing the educational opportunity gap and making her own individual impact from within the classroom. This June, we’ll begin a summer of rigorous pre-service training, ongoing support and coaching that will extend throughout our two-year commitment. We expect that we will have much to learn from our colleagues when the school year begins but will have developed the fundamentals to set ambitious goals for our students and lead them toward those aspirations.

The growing body of rigorous research on TFA demonstrates that its approach to teacher training and support develops teachers who make a meaningful impact on student learning. It is among the nation’s most-studied teacher-preparation programs. The most recent study, conducted by Mathematics Policy Research and commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that TFA teachers have a positive impact on student achievement in math. Additionally, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s 2013 report card identified Teach For America as one of the state’s most effective sources of teachers for the fourth consecutive year. These findings are consistent with similar statewide studies in North Carolina and Louisiana.

While it’s too early to say where our career paths will take us after Teach For America, we can state with conviction that our commitment to educational equity will be lifelong. That’s a commitment shared by Teach For America’s 32,000 alumni, the majority of whom continue to work full-time in fields tied to education. While we heard a lot of concern at the Brown Bag about the length of time corps members spend in the classroom, 61 percent of TFA teachers return for a third year and a full one third of Teach For America’s 32,000 alumni are still in the classroom today. Many of  those who leave the classroom continue to be strong advocates for education, both within the field and beyond. Of the over 100 Colgate alumni that have joined TFA’s, 32 are still in Pre-K through 12th grade classrooms, 17 serve in another school- or district-based administrative or support role, nine are employed in higher education and academia, six work in the non-profit sector and four are school principals. Among other titles held by Colgate’s lifelong leaders are superintendent, education advisor to the governor of North Carolina, reporter for NPR, educational venturefund partner, and educational consultant. TFA’s network of educators and advocates is a diverse one. 31 percent of alumni identify as people of color, and 39 percent of corps members are people of color. 39 percent of corps members are Pell Grant recipients (an indicator of low-income background) and some 27 percent are the first in their family to go to college. TFA has made a firm commitment to increasing the diversity of the corps because shared background can foster powerful connections in the classroom and because we will need diverse perspectives at the table to eliminate educational inequity. The organization offers a number of partnerships, including AmeriCorps education awards and graduate school scholarships, to make joining the corps financially sustainable for individuals of all economic backgrounds.

In the classroom next fall, we will have an incredible opportunity to work alongside fellow teachers, families and communities to give our students the shot they deserve at a future filled with positive options. While academics are a key that can open so many doors, as they have for us here at Colgate, creating opportunity also means thinking beyond test scores and looking more holistically at the social, emotional and citizenship skills our students will need to be successful in higher education and the workplace. All students should have the chance to reach their full potential and teachers who are committed to supporting them in their journey. We can’t wait to get started.

Contact Mara Lewis at [email protected]

and Heather Feshbach at [email protected]