If you’ve been been following me on Twitter recently, you know that I attended the Teach for America 20 Year Anniversary Summit. With 11,000 people at a highly programmed conference, I knew connecting with people via Twitter throughout the day would be my best bet to meet people. During the conference, close to 1,000 people tweeted the conference using the #TFA20 hashtag and every 50 tweets were exposed to about 26,000 other people on Twitter. It’s a great testament to the power of social media to reach people with a message. Below is the tweet cloud of the most common words tweeted as part of the conference. (As a FYI, the most re-tweeted message was a quote from Joel Klein, but the tweeter spelled his name “Kline.”)
I can’t deny that I’ve been struggling with writing about the Summit. Teach for America always riles up emotions in me and writing about them is hard. If I wrote every thought that came to me over the last few days, it would be the length of a book so there’s been much thought on how to structure this post. Finally, I am tentative about fully discussing my views on some education issues as I have consulting clients who are school districts and charter schools and I don’t want to jeopardize those relationships. My consulting focuses on helping institutions find great teachers who are dedicated to helping students achieve at high levels, something I believe in deeply and am very good at doing. What I ultimately feel about other education issues shouldn’t matter, but it will to some.
I’ve decided to split my thoughts into two posts. The first is on Pleasant Surprises and the second will be on Sticky Concerns. If you want a summary of the Summit, you can view the official videos of the conference sessions or read a play-by-play on Norm Scott’s Ed Notes Online blog.
My pleasant surprises…
Focus on Staying in Teaching and Schools
I found there was an emphasis on staying in teaching in the messages I heard and saw at the Summit. I also took a bus from New York City with mostly younger corps and I heard about how they wanted to stay in teaching. I know Teach for America has a rap for being a resume builder for young graduates and that’s why many leave after two years, but that’s a simplistic take on a complex situation. As a career coach, I work with people who change jobs and careers every few years because it’s in their DNA and they shouldn’t be judged, whether they are a TFA alum or not.
I admire people who found teaching and have stuck with it as a long-term career because they found their passion. I only taught for two years and I have no apologies. I came to teaching with the best of intentions, and I loved working with kids, but I realized it was not my calling. I am sure it didn’t help that I did TFA back in 1997 where you were thrown in a classroom and told “See you in two years!” But ultimately the isolation, routines and structure of teaching did not make me a happy person and I knew that my strengths and talents (working with large-scale projects, for example) could be put to better use. I stayed in public education for over ten years and am confident about the good work I did, as well as the work I do today as a career coach working with college students and young professionals. I keep in touch with the kids I did teach and have helped them over the years because they were what mattered to me in the experience, not my career. That being said, I am glad more corps members want to stay teaching and feel prepared to be effective. I like that TFA is actively encouraging this, even though it’s up to each individual to decide what’s right for them.
A New Appreciation for Dave Levin, Mike Feinberg, and Deborah Bial
The Opportunities Project is about maximizing human capital and creating long-term economic success for people, especially those who face disadvantages. I founded my company because I was sick of encountering college graduates who had few tangible skills to make themselves successfully economically, but possessed unconscionable levels of student debt.
I think it’s naïve to think that college admission should be the goal of education reform when we have so much data on student debt and unemployment for recent graduates. So I was pleased to hear this message from Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg of KIPP. Both spoke about long-term student success and where our collective responsibility as educators lies. Like Dave Levin said, we have toaim higher than creating groups of smart eighth graders- no one’s going to give an 8th grader a job. We’ve broken the American promise that schools can change a young person’s life and we have to fix that. I couldn’t agree more.
I know there are people who have issues with KIPP. I am not going to take those on here. Whatever you might feel, I think that they should be celebrated for their focus on economic success as an important education outcome and not just test scores.
Deborah Bial is the President of The Posse Foundation, an organization I was only vaguely familiar with before the Summit. I heard her speak on the Ensuring Success in College and Beyond panel. She spoke about how our higher education system, especially its staggering costs, is creating a perpetual class system. I found her conviction inspiring in all her comments. My one gripe about this panel is that the moderator didn’t ask any questions about the “beyond” part of the panel’s title.
This is a non-sequiter, but right after Deborah’s opening remarks during the College and Beyond panel, I had an epiphany that I want a career that is part Wendy Kopp, part Deborah Bial and part Penelope Trunk (without all the weird personal revelations). Need to journal on that one.
The Sheer Force of 11,000 People Committed to Kids
I have a pro-union education blogger friend who I speak to quite often. He says that we probably agree on about 80% of the issues- I think it’s about 75%. However, the one thing we agree on 100% is that we want a better education system for kids in NYC, even if we don’t always agree on the same strategies we need to get there. Our agreement matters, not just the ideas. If you don’t agree with how TFA is helping to increase educational equity, you still should be impressed with their passion and energy. I think Pedro Noguera’s tweet sums it up well.
I’ll post my Sticky Concerns tomorrow. Interestingly, I am also finally seeing Waiting for Superman tonight on a college campus. When the movie played here in the NYC area, I was in the midst of an intense entrepreneurship fellowship program and I couldn’t get to a theater before it closed. Since the movie focuses on employee performance (at least in part) I am really interested in viewing it from a wide human resources perspective so I can talk about some of the issues with the corporate human resources and recruitment professionals I work with these days. You’d be surprised what happens (or doesn’t) in corporate HR, even when they don’t work with unions.