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Teach for America #TFA20 Recap and Reflections: Part 1

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.”)

Teach for America Tweet Cloud

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.

Interested in knowing more about how the achievement gap is perpetuated after college graduation? Download our white paper on this topic and understand the facts.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

#TFA20 Tweetup This Weekend!

I’m attending the Teach for America 20 Year Anniversary Summit this weekend in Washington, DC. (I’m a 1997 New York corps member and you can read my blog post about my Teach for America experience here). There are 10,000 alumni expected at the summit and I’m excited to see old friends and make new ones. There is something to be said about meeting a stranger, saying the phrase “Moody Towers” and feeling like you’ve shared a lifetime of experiences.

I am co-hosting an in-person #TFA20 Tweetup for all the people at the conference who are tweeting it on Saturday in the Google Lounge. Two specific reasons why I am excited about the Tweetup:

1. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the digital democracy. The internet is full of stories of people who used social media to grow their network, find opportunities and eventually find a job, which is why it’s a tool I use in my career coaching and recruitment consulting. If WE can use to it connect personally and professionally and advocate for our causes, imagine what others can do to advocate for themselves?

2. It’s an opportunity to connect the great work of Teach for America alumni who are tackling different parts of our nation’s education problem. I left school district leadership because I saw that the children we were trying so hard to educate were not realizing economic opportunity because there is a college to career gap, one that grew after our economy changed forever in 2008. I know there are many alumni doing their part in new and inventive ways and I am looking forward to meeting them and learning more about what they do.

Here are the event details. See you there!

Teach for America 20 YearsThe Teach for America 20th Anniversary Summit #TFA20 Tweetup

Saturday, February 12 at 12:45 PM to 1:15 PM in the Google Lounge @ The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.

Tracy Brisson (1997 New York TFA Corps Member) of The Opportunities Project will be co-hosting an in-person Tweetup of Teach for America alumni and friends who use Twitter to connect and advocate for educational opportunity. For more information leading up to the event, and to follow the Tweetup in real-time, please follow @TFA20 and @oppsproject on Twitter, as well as the hashtag #TFA20.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Why I Teach for America

Last week, I saw on Facebook and Twitter that the first members of the 2011 Teach for America corps had received their offers of admission. I think that’s amazing and congratulate all the new members of the corps!

Teach for AmericaThe Opportunities Project is a supporter of Teach for America (TFA) and its mission to ensure that everyone has the right to an excellent education. Over the last few years, Teach for America has been a force to be reckoned with in college recruiting. Last year, TFA was the largest employer of Yale graduates and 18% of all seniors applied for a slot in the corps. That means powerhouse investment banks and management-consulting firms are competing with a teaching program for the top talent. Why I think that is happening is a topic for another blog post.

If you read my bio, you know I started my career as a TFA corps member, teaching fourth grade and sixth grade in Washington Heights. I had always done well in school, but my high school experience had been very disengaging to me and I had little respect for teachers. When I started college, I was in the film production program at the Newhouse School at Syracuse and was planning my career in media domination. There were lots of little decisions and big experiences during my time at Syracuse that led me from media to the public policy program at Maxwell School and then Teach for America, but the most influential was likely my first semester in college.

Before getting to Syracuse, it never occurred to me that I would have trouble fitting in or that I would feel intimidated. But I struggled my first semester. I wondered if I really deserved to attend a private college with all of these other students- someone who had never been on airplane, someone who had never been to camp, and someone who had never heard the phrase Advanced Placement. But I realized that even though I hadn’t had all those experiences, I had advantages over other students, and they were my fourth grade teacher Mr. Brodeur and my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Desrosiers at the Wood School in Fairhaven, MA. They had taught me work ethic and the belief that I could have dreams and achieve them with focused effort and resilience. Even though my high school had let me down, the marks of the good teachers I had carried forever and I wanted to return the favor to other kids like me.

My experience with Teach for America over the last thirteen years has been up and down. Back when I did the corps, there was a tenth of the support they now offer corps members and I regularly got my ass kicked by my students. (I still talk to many of them now and I love how respectful they are in pretending this wasn’t the case). And in TFA’s efforts to set and meet ambitious goals for their alumni, they established tracks for career success (principalship, teaching, elected officials, etc.) and if you weren’t on one of those narrow tracks, my experience for many years was that I didn’t belong. However, I’ve seen in the last year that’s changing, too. Unresolved issues are my mixed emotions about their expansion in this time of municipal budget cuts and teacher layoffs, and my overwhelming desire to start a Facebook group called Shut. Up. John. Legend. But neither takes away from the benefits for students that wouldn’t happen without TFA, and the power of being part of a network of 20,000 alumni who are doing their part to make things better in this country.

Teach for America is not for everyone, even if you meet their rigorous selection model. But if you think you can make changes for young people through your relentless effort and courage, I encourage you to research the program, whether you are graduating this fall or are a professional. Their next application deadline is December 17th. Any questions for this alum, send them in.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

Why I Do What I Do: Reflections on Veterans Day

A few weeks ago, I introduced a blog series I was planning on the “Whys” in our life, and more specifically why we do what we do professionally. Today is Veterans Day and I’ve decided to run the post that I planned to run last in the series, with a few changes. The series hasn’t run yet because, well, things happen. In particular, I’ve had too much fun blogging about my takes on authenticity in your professional life and promoting the fantastic events I’ve been doing with Keith Petri of But I think today is a fitting day to reflect on this.

So how does “Why I Do What I Do” relate to Veterans Day? Many readers may not be aware, but 10% of The Opportunities Project’s revenues go toward a scholarship fund to provide free career coaching for female veterans who want assistance transitioning into the civilian workforce. I am doing this because I respect the leadership and skills that the military teaches people- they far eclipse those taught by the best business school- and because it feels deeply personal to me. This is a recent thing- I haven’t had a life-long love for the military. My grandfathers were veterans but they never talked about it. My parents are liberal anti-war types and I inherited much of that view. I remember a military recruiter called our house once in high school and I laughed my ass off- I was an alternateen who wrote poems and worshipped Sylvia Plath- me in the military? Seriously, no.

The Opportunities Project supports their friends who served in the military this Veteran's Day. But I have a childhood friend who is like my sister that I reconnected with through Facebook almost two years ago. I went away to college and stopped coming home for breaks and she went to community college and moved around a lot. This was before everyone had an email address and we lost touch. When we found each other, I learned that she had joined the Army at 27 and it had changed her life. She now counsels soldiers who are returning from war or changing posts and I’ve learned a lot about what our young veterans sacrifice and what they gain. I’ve since visited her in two places that her and her family have been stationed and met more people who have served in Iraq than I ever thought I would. So one of the reasons I am giving back to our veterans is to honor the work that this woman I love has done to make things better for people who have signed up to serve our country.

Female veterans can apply for free career coaching from The Opportunities Project.(Fun fact- that first picture was taken with a Polaroid in 1993 in Martha’s Vineyard. That second picture was taken in 2010 in Savannah with an Android mobile phone. Fascinating to me for some reason.)

On the flip side, while I think there is no better education than the military, it angers me that so many 18 year olds feel that their only economic choice is to enlist. Two years ago, I watched The Recruiter, an HBO documentary about one of the most successful Army recruiters in our country and his efforts to recruit Louisiana high school students (unfortunately, it’s not available on ITunes). It was one of the most thought-provoking documentaries I have ever seen and a far better statement on the failures of our American education system than Waiting for Superman will ever be. Most of the students profiled in the movie were enlisting because it was their only professional and educational option after high school. The recruiter knew that and worked extra hard to make sure every one of them met the requirements for enlistment. I think that the filmmakers wanted me to think of the recruiter poorly for some of the ways he seemed to trick kids, but I loved this man for making sure they didn’t let this opportunity pass. I found the interviews with female recruits especially moving and I realized that this has sat with for me a while because I desperately wanted to make the world better for these young women. Hopefully, I can through coaching.

Yesterday, Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist ran a blog post on why we should cancel Veteran’s Day. Even if it was not a controversial issue, her thoughts come off as immature, whining, and unrelated. I am not quite sure how her mommy and daddy issues are relevant to whether the United States should collectively celebrate Veterans Day. I do agree that we should be talking about how our education system fails so many people and that many people in uniform (including firemen and police) could be more grounded in the struggles civilians face. I think our military budget is way too high. But none of this should demean the experience of soldiers who serve our country in the least. Our thoughts should focus on how we can do more for these people every day, not how we can also serve ourselves.

So that is “Why” I do one of the things I do. Information on the scholarship program details will be coming as I get more clients. And in the meantime, for a great post on veterans and their careers, read ERE’s take today.

If you’d like to guest post on Why You Do What You Do, please comment or contact me. I welcome a diversity of voices.

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog

My Pitch: Why Career Coaching Can Transform Education

Happy Friday! After a somewhat traumatic Thursday that involved a lot of time talking to Chase bank (don’t ask!), I am now writing from Savannah, GA. I am visiting an old friend and doing more planning for our special event on Tuesday, November 9th on Achieving Career Success through Blogging. Tickets go up again on Monday, November 1 so RSVP today!

I’ve planned a four (or is it five?) part series on Why I Do What I Do, but thought I’d start the weekend with a video aligned with the “why” question. In September, I applied for a slot in the first cohort of the Kauffman Education Ventures Program. This program is for 15 entrepreneurs who want to start for-profit, multi-million dollar education ventures, K-20. My hope for The Opportunities Project is that it eventually competes on the level of Kaplan and The Princeton Review- if you graduate and you need help getting to the next step, you would turn to The Opportunities Project for guidance, so I threw my hat in the ring.

I wasn’t ultimately chosen for the Kauffman program, and to be absolutely honest, I was relieved. I was not convinced it was going to be a fit during the pre-application process conference calls, and personally, I need the space in my life to try new things on my own. That is just too important to my personal journey now. Maybe next year. But as part of the application, I had to submit a YouTube video addressing two questions- (1) what inspired me about entrepreneurship, and (2) why I thought my venture could transform education. It was the first YouTube video I ever did and it was not exactly natural or easy filming. Even more difficult was posting it publicly and seeing users named “Maneater” favorite it. Eww. I thought about deleting the video after I found out that I was not selected, but I’ve decided to keep it up for a while. I like the reminder it gives me that it’s okay to be outside your comfort zone, especially when you care about something deeply. The second part also reminds me how passionate I am about fixing the world for our graduates.

Happy Halloween!

Posted via email from The Opportunities Project Blog