Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Best and the Brightest

Teach for America claims to recruit America's top college seniors. The time I've spent with them this week has convinced me that it's true. TFA's philosophy is that if people have shown leadership abilities in non-classroom areas, that past experience and inner-drive is what they need to succeed in closing the achievement gap in America's under-resourced schools. The Superintendent of KC, MO schools believes the data supports this claim. So much so that 100% of new teachers the past two years have been TFA corps members and 20% of the teaching force is now TFA. By far, this is the highest percentage of any urban school district.

So in an effort to prepare us for a new leadership role, we've spent time reflecting upon our past leadership roles, including hearing the stories of current TFA teachers. It's interesting to hear "I never failed at anything in college, but my principal told me she was two weeks from firing me." That guy ended the year with the most improved classroom. But here are some of the things I've heard from these leaders; ran track at Wisconsin, rowed for Ohio State, I've been working out with a guy who studied anthropology and swam an Northwestern, president of their sorority, a fraternity president who faced an 80% drop in membership and had to turn it around to keep their mortgage from defaulting, summer research projects at prestigious universities, a young lady who did her student teaching in Germany, founder of a non-profit in Argentina, two people with PhD's, leader of a non-profit in inner-city Houston, a lot of college RA's. I could go on and on with the list. These people have postponed law-school or turned down high-paying jobs for corporate America. And while many of them will later go on to that type of work, TFA believes we need advocates for ed reform in all areas of the country, not just the classroom.

The principal of Troost Elementary told us all that she can't believe the quality of TFA teachers, considering we come through a non-traditional teacher training tract. So TFA's theory seems to work, at least at a higher percentage than the regular teaching force.

While most of them are straight out of college, there are a few with post-college experience and even families. But only three of us in what we call the that 70's club. I've been interesting to some people, "you're that guy who started a church, right?"

Here's the criteria straight off TFA's website. While I did have some leadership experience in college, I got into TFA because of my post-college experience. I never would've been open to the social justice issues addressed by TFA when I was in college, it took seminary and life experience to open my eyes to systemic injustice.

We look for evidence of:

•Demonstrated past leadership and achievement: achieving ambitious, measurable results in academic, professional, extracurricular, or volunteer settings
Perseverance and sustained focus in the face of challenges Sure learned this in starting and leading a church
•Strong critical thinking skills: making accurate linkages between cause and effect and generating relevant solutions to problems
•Superior organizational ability: planning well, meeting deadlines, and working efficiently
•Respect for individuals’ diverse experiences and effectively working with people from a variety of backgrounds
•Superior interpersonal skills to motivate and lead others
•Thorough understanding of and desire to work relentlessly in pursuit of our vision
Successful teachers are also accomplished leaders. Applicants have historically demonstrated leadership within a broad range of experiences, such as:

•Holding leadership roles on campus and delivering significant results for organizations and research projects
•Excelling as team managers at work, coaches of athletic teams, or directors of community organizations
•Demonstrating success in a variety of career fields, such as business, law, medicine, and education
•Achieving measurable results in professional jobs, military experience, or graduate school

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