For her senior year thesis at Princeton University, 21-year-old Wendy Kopp suggested a model of a national teacher corps along the lines of the peace corps, a volunteer programme wherein American citizens are sent to developing countries to work and increase mutual understanding.
Kopp, now 43, heads Teach For America (TFA), a programme that recruits college graduates to teach for two years in low-income schools. Since it started in 1990, TFA has placed about 28,000 teacher fellows. The model is now being applied in various countries such as Peru, Lebanon and India through the Teach For All network. Kopp, who heads the network, was in the city to work with Teach For India, now in its second year.
How and why did the idea of Teach For America germinate?
I was concerned that in our country, which has been the land of opportunity, the background into which kids were born, determined their educational prospects and life outcome. Our generation was searching to make a difference so I thought why not have a national teacher corps aggressively address the issue of education — both in terms of the short-term impact on student learning and long-term impact in what the fellows took away from the programme.
Considering teachers are in demand but not paid enough, how do you attract people to the profession?
It is important to understand the TFA model is a leadership programme. The most fundamental issue is education and building leaders who learn the lessons that come from teaching. Even after they leave the teaching programme they may continue to work on the cause of education from the outside, too, through policy, journalism and so on.
Why is it important to invest in education?
Education is such a fundamental investment. If we can give more people the educational tools to make choices then we can solve all the other problems in the world.
What’s next for Teach For America and Teach For All?
We’re waiting to get bigger and better and increase our impacts. Teach For All hopes to work in 18 countries by the end of the year and in 50 within the next five years.