Good Teachers Make the Difference in Student Learning: Teach for America Focused Developing High Quality Educators

Teach for America is a great way to influence your world, and support future generations on their path to success.

by Reggie Fullwood

As the old saying goes, “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

There is no place that that platitude is more relevant than in public education. Every large school district throughout the nation struggles with achievement gaps in schools in low-income communities. Often times we make achievement a race issue, but it’s more so an economic issue. Schools located in poor neighbors struggle versus schools housed in middle to upper income communities.

The old ways of meeting the challenges facing public education are obsolete and simply are not working.

Many “experts” have argued that the main factor to student growth and achievement is a child’s teacher. Some say that a good teacher is only half of the equation – you also need strong parental involvement, good school administrationand the right class sizes.

When it comes to education, there are enough theories and research to fill the Grand Canyon. But the one area that all agree on is the fact that good teachers do matter. How many of us adults remember our favorite teacher and the impact that he or she had on our lives?

Democrats and Republicans agree that teachers make the biggest difference in a child’s achievement. The differencecomes into play when we start talking about how we identify and support good teachers and weed out bad ones.

The Harvard Journal on Legislation article Paying for Public Education states, “Every additional dollar spent on raising teacher quality netted greater student achievement gains than did any other use of school resources.”

Many school districts have invested in fads that may have some short-term success, but even the best program must still have the most critical element – quality educators.

Good teachers care and go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Quality teachers don’t teach for the high salaries (yeah I know); they teach for the love of educating our children – our future.

So if we all agree that teachers are the most important factor in educating our children, then how do continue to develop good teachers? Teachfor America (TFA) is one good answer to that question.

The organization essentially recruits committed recent college graduates and professionals of all backgrounds to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools. Again, it’s not necessarily about race, but economics when it comes to struggling schools.

The Teach for America goal is that “All kids – no matter where they live, how much money their parents make, or what their skin color is – deserve access to a great education. But in our country today, low-income children do not have the same access to a great education as their wealthier peers.”

The organization is a national not for profit that has members/teachers in over 50 cities throughout the country. TFA looks for individuals who show leadership potential and have other traits that are found in successful teachers.

Crystal Rountree came to Jacksonville to start the Duval County arm of the organization. If you haven’t been under a rock, you know that the Duval County School System has struggled in recent years with graduation rates and low-income student achievement as a whole. Many local business leaders welcomed Teach for America with open arms, because again – we all agree that continuing to develop quality teachers is critical to the success of our children.

In some cities conflicts have arisen between Teach for America supporters and teacher’s unions. Some unions feel that because TFA members are short-term teachers in many cases, the organization is not creating a sustainable pool of quality teachers.

The flip side of that is the fact that the organization is recruiting and training highly skilled professionals that are motivated to go into the classroom and give it all they have for two to three years. In Jacksonville, the shortage of black male teachers is real. TFA has been able to recruit and mentor a diverse group of members that are making an impact on local schools according to Rountree.

“This year Teach For America – Jacksonville welcomed almost 100 new corps members who were hired as teachers by Duval County’s highest need public schools this year,” says Rountree. “Some 74 percent of this year’s corps members identify as people of color or are from a low income backgrounds. 41 percent of this year’s corps are African American, and 9 percent are black men,” she adds.

Crystal also points out that diversity in its members was not accidental. “This was intentional, as it’s important to us that we engage talented and committed leaders from all backgrounds and academic interests in order to bring diverse perspectives and experiences to Jacksonville classrooms,” she says.

“We’ve also found that maximizing diversity supports our effort to attract the country’s top talent to education,” she states.

Ralph Ellison once said, “Education is all a matter of building bridges.” TFA is helping to create quality bridge builders in Jacksonville and throughout the country.

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