Sunday, April 28, 2013

TFA Inspiring Early Childhood Education

   As a Northwestern student, majoring in Communications and the Integrated Marketing Certificate program, who is preparing to graduate and immediately begin training with Teach For America to teach kindergarten in the fall, I can’t help but wonder about what lies ahead as I begin this journey. Many may be skeptical about TFA Corps members- Are they capable teachers? Do they really help change the trajectory of education for students in America? Do they continue to pursue education past their commitment with the corps? And most importantly, would I want a TFA Corps member educating my child? What I’m glad to report that I have found is that majority of TFA Corps members do continue working in education past their 2-year commitment to the corps. Moreover, TFA alumni create their own programs and education initiatives after the corps. “Finding Our Listening Ears” by Kelly Powers and Jesse Illhardt illustrates how corps members use what they learned during their time in the classroom to create their own educational programs. “Would You Want Your Child Taught By A Teach For America Teacher?” by Heather Harding gives an account of a mother who comes face-to-face with this question when her son is placed in a preschool with a TFA alum. Both of these articles focus on early childhood education, as that is my placement with TFA.

      Teach For America is an eye-opening experience that inspires Corps members to continue to strive for excellence in the education system long after their time in the corps. Powers and Illhardt (now both TFA alumni) illustrate that TFA sparks great leaders who create innovative programs for education during and after their time in the corps.  Powers and Illhardt’s blog explains how Early Childhood Education (ECE) is an extremely important and critical time for a child’s learning and development, and all children should have a quality pre-school education. “The term ‘early childhood education’ recently flooded American homes as news broadcasters recapped President Obama’s second inaugural address. Weeks after the fanfare has subsided, our country is left with an immense challenge: how can we provide our neediest children and families the high-quality educational start they need?” write Powers and Illhardt. The two TFA alumni believe that education reform is possible, and can start in your own community. These former Corps members saw a problem and realized a solution, and thus started a unique and effective early childhood education center in Chicago for children birth to 5. (The program is called VOCE- Viewing Our Children as Emerging Leaders). Powers and Illhardt explain how hard it was to initially get the community excited about this new learning center. Eventually though, two dozen families were eager to participate and be involved in their young child’s education; putting them on the best track now so that they would have more opportunities in the future.
      As mentioned, Powers and Illhardt explained how difficult it initially was to get parents excited about enrolling their child into this new program created by TFA alumni. In Heather Harding’s blog “Would You Want Your Child Taught By A Teach For America Teacher?” she speaks directly to the skepticism of a TFA program and its educators. Harding explains her own connection to TFA and how her skepticism about her son’s TFA teacher brought her values and convictions about education to the forefront. As she re-evaluated what she wanted in an educator for her child, Harding found that the answer revealed itself in the way Ms. Laura (her child’s teacher) worked with her son. Ms. Laura’s passion, enthusiasm, and skill proved to Harding that TFA teachers make a positive impact on the institution of education.
      While every Corps member will have a vastly different experience, and while parents and students will also have different experiences with Corps members, it is important as always to keep an open mind. Prejudices will arise and questions will be asked, but hopefully constant re-evaluation will only make TFA Corps members better teachers. For TFA Corps members, I would recommend embracing and learning from criticisms and questions about what it means to be a Corps member. For governmental institutions and schools, I would recommend keeping an open mind when presented with the opportunity to work with Corps members. And for parents, I would recommend fostering open communication with your child’s educator. While not at all an easy task, if we all work together, we can close the achievement gap in America.

Julia Bareiss is a senior at Northwestern University majoring in Communication Studies. She plans to begin work with TFA starting in June 2013 and will be placed in Milwaukee teaching early childhood education. Follow her on Twitter: @juliagulia13 and on her blog Life Of Jules at

1 comment:

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