Letters to Editor, Opinion

LETTER: Response to Teach for America editorial

As an alum of both Boston University College of Communication 2003 and Teach For America D.C. 2004, Thursday’s editorial “To Teach For America or Not to Teach For America” caught my eye. The piece critiques the program that led me to a career in education — one that started at COM, carried me to sixty 1st graders in D.C., then to my work on TFA’s public affairs team. In my current role, I get to take the best of what BU provided me as a communicator and combine it with the best from TFA: a deep understanding of the challenges and possibility in high-needs classrooms.

Last week’s piece offers puzzling logic. In it, the editors start with a valid assessment of the severe teacher shortage in Hawaii, then close with a call to start hiring veteran teachers. The implication seems to be that if principals in Hawaii lose their ability to consider corps members for open positions, a population of veteran teachers would emerge to fill them. This is not the case.

Corps members are just one source of talent for the Hawaii Department of Education — but they’re critical for the hardest-to-fill positions. Across the country, 83 percent of first-year teachers in low-income schools teach a second year. Ninety percent of our first-year corps members do. Nationally, approximately two-thirds of our teachers stay beyond their initial two-year commitment.

TFA corps members and alumni have been partnering with families and advocates in Hawaii since 2006. According to the DOE, Hawaii’s public schools have narrowed the gap in academic outcomes between high-need students and non-high needs by 12 percent over the past two years. Rates for on-time graduation, college enrollment and proficiency are all on the rise.

Beyond the illogical argument, most disconcerting is the editors’ reference to the “white savior” complex. This is a sweeping mischaracterization and particularly offensive to the one-third of first-year Hawaii corps members who are Native Hawaiian or Kama’aina.

Fifteen years ago, my career path changed forever when I attended an info session on TFA at the George Sherman Union. A native of the Mississippi Delta, a region of the country with a stark opportunity gap, I remember being struck by how the presenter spoke to my personal conviction that all kids deserve access to an excellent education, no matter their zip code. I’d always appreciated educators, but that day, I felt a renewed respect for what they do to shape our collective future.

When I arrived in D.C. 10 years ago to teach, I felt the enormity of my responsibility. My students would be held to the same benchmarks as kids from very different economic backgrounds, but I had to help them get there. Happily, I had incredible support – both from TFA and from colleagues like Ms. Mann, the teacher next door who coached and inspired me.

There is so much work to be done in our public schools. As a BU alum and one of 20,000 TFA alums still working in education (10,000 still in the classroom), it’s frustrating to see such a casual swipe at this critical work.

Natalie Haskins Laukitis can be reached at nvhaskins8@gmail.com.

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