Schools Chancellor Joel Klein called on more than 1,000 Teach for America alumni at a conference Saturday to “wield cudgels” and see themselves as “warriors in the fight for educational equity.”
But some alumni questioned the feasibility of the warrior lifestyle that Klein said is embodied by TFA grads such as D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and KIPP charter school founder Dave Levin.
“We want to be like you,” a TFA alum told who now works for the DOE stood up to tell his current boss, District 79 Superintendent Cami Anderson. But he asked how it’s possible for a regular person to make a difference and still have a personal life. Anderson, a former TFA regional director for New York City, has a reputation for putting in long hours and having almost limitless energy.
Confessing to her own struggles with burnout, Anderson acknowledged that closing the achievement gap isn’t going to happen in just a few years, so the work must be sustainable. Before taking her current DOE position, she said, she set personal goals for herself, such as leaving work twice a week at 6 p.m. and sometimes reading frivolous books.
And Levin, whose KIPP schools have been criticized for asking for a superhuman commitment from teachers, said it’s time to stop perpetuating the idea that it’s impossible to work in urban schools and still raise a family.
Anderson and Levin were among several speakers at the summit who encouraged TFA alums to engage in ground-level activism in support of improved schools. Another speaker touted 18 TFA alums who have been elected to political office around the country, and an optional panel offered instructions about how to leverage community boards.