Posted by Josh Lauren
When I first arrived in Gallup, N.M., I knew I was a long way from Skidmore but that I'd found a new home. I was starting my first year as a Teach For America corps member as a middle school history and language arts teacher at Thoreau Middle School. Working with students like Aaron, Izzy, and Shelby on World History and Geography, or helping Raymond move from a third grade reading level to a sixth grade reading level-the days were long and hard, but incredibly rewarding. Whether it was in the classroom or on the basketball court with my team of sixth and seventh graders, I was inspired by their ability to overcome the challenges of poverty that stood in their way and the limitless potential I saw in them just waiting to be realized.
As an American Studies major at Skidmore College in the Class of 2007, I didn't see myself building a career in education. But after attending a Teach For America information session, I knew that in the classroom I could make a meaningful impact right away. And six years later, I'm still working alongside fellow educators, families and community members to ensure that students growing up in poverty have the same educational opportunity as their more affluent peers.
Today I work for Achievement First, a network of charter public schools serving families in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, building strong teaching teams for our middle schools. We look for teachers who possess content mastery and excellent classroom management skills, as well as mindsets like persistence, grit, reflectiveness, and a desire to constantly learn and improve.
Because many of these characteristics are aligned with what Teach For America looks for in their candidates, we consider corps members for open positions and hire a number each year. I'm consistently impressed with their firm belief that our students can achieve anything with the right support, which echoes Achievement First's mission to deliver on the promise of equal educational opportunity for all of America's children.
As I read Olivia Frank's recent article about Teach For America, I was struck by two things. First, she shares my deep commitment to ending educational inequity. Second, she has a narrow view of the work that many members of the Teach For America network do. With a network of 11,000 corps members reaching more than 750,000 students and 32,000 alumni, it's a group with a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives. But, informed by our corps experience, we're united in our commitment to ensure that every child, regardless of his or her zip code or family income, has a shot at a great education. Two-thirds of Teach For America alums work full-time in education like me. One-third are classroom teachers. Others are tackling issues that impact low-income communities from a range of other sectors.
No doubt, teaching is one of the hardest things that I've ever done, but I had many resources to draw on while I developed as a classroom leader. With intensive, hands-on pre-service training, the support of my Teach For America instructional coach throughout my two years in the corps and the guidance of my colleagues at Thoreau, I was able to lead my students to over two years of reading growth. Many other corps members share that experience. A recent independent study by Mathematica Policy Research found that corps members in their first and second year of teaching do as well or better than other teachers. On average, students taught by Teach For America teachers show an additional 2.6 months of learning in math over the course of a year.
In Gallup, like many other rural communities across America, my school district struggled to attract and retain effective teachers. Teach For America provided one critical pipeline of candidates. In other places, the teacher job market is much tighter, but many districts must continue to make new hires for open positions. Teach For America provides one critical source of diverse teaching talent, and school and district officials decide whom to hire for their open positions.
At Skidmore, every first-year learns that creative thought matters. I've taken that charge to the wider world, knowing that it will take fresh, innovative thinking to solve the massive problem of educational inequity, which can seem like an intractable problem. My students showed me every day that, by thinking outside the box and giving just a little more of yourself, you can change the future for our next generation of leaders. All of us in this fight for educational equity must come together in innovative ways, not tear one another down. Let's give kids our best creative thinking.
Josh Lauren is a 2007 graduate of Skidmore College and a 2007 New Mexico Teach For America corps member. He serves as a talent recruiter for Achievement First.