THE BLOG
11/26/2013 05:53 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

A Call to Teach

In the next decade, over one million teachers will retire, and we'll need a new generation of educators to follow in their honorable footsteps.

Last week, Teach for America partnered with the Department of Education's TEACH initiative to inspire young people and current professionals to be our future educators. We join with unions, nonprofits, businesses, and others to highlight the strength of this profession.

We need this collaboration -- too often, argument about education policy takes the place of action. This is a step in the right direction; no matter our differences, all of us are committed to finding great teachers to shape our nation's future.

And we've got a lot of work ahead of us. There is no silver bullet for making classrooms great or teaching easy -- the truth is, it takes a lot of work, and teaching will never be easy. It takes ingenuity. It takes resilience. It takes leadership. It takes collaboration.

We don't just need more teachers. We need excellent teachers, and we need diverse teachers. We need culturally responsive teachers. We need teachers in STEM fields and we need teachers who are passionate about teaching students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

We need this -- because nationally, we've got a problem. Our students need increased training in science and math to be competitive in a tech-savvy world. Students in special education programs are often left behind, and the education system isn't adequately supporting students of color and low income students. 82 percent of African American fourth graders and 81 percent of students receiving free lunch scored below proficient on their National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in English. We need great teachers working hard to turn these tables.

We need teachers like Veronica Palmer, a Teach For America alumna who taught third grade ELL students, and was a founding Kindergarten teacher at KIPP Raices Academy in East LA. There, she established the school's Parent Advisory Council, which influenced her work today as the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of RISE Colorado, a non-profit that aims to empower families to stake their claim in the education system.

We need committed and talented teachers like my sister, Elaine, who was a traditionally trained Special Education teacher and has been working as a teacher and now coordinator for the past 17 years. I'd put her in any classroom with any child -- she holds incredibly high expectations and is showing the world each day what students with exceptionalities are capable of.

We need teachers like Jamie Gua, a 2012 corps member who engaged her students in the STEM competition Design For Change, leading them to win the national competition and travel to India for the international round.

We need teachers who push their kids to defy the odds. Teachers like Jenny Corroy, a 2004 Teach For America alumna and award-winning teacher at IDEA College Preparatory in South Texas. Last year, 80 percent of Jenny's students received highly competitive International Baccalaureate credit for their English course at IDEA.

We need teachers like Timeica Bethel, a 2011 corps member, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and returned there after college to teach in her very own neighborhood.

We need teachers like Raheim Smith, a 2013 corps member and veteran of the U.S. army, who teaches at an alternative school in Brooklyn for students involved in the criminal justice system. Raheim, who experienced homelessness as a child, now sees teaching as his life's calling to support others who struggle with difficult childhoods.

I'm particularly excited that the Teach Campaign might bring more people of color into this field. We need a diverse group of teachers for this diverse country -- we need more African American and Latino teachers. We need teachers who identify as Asian American and Pacific Islanders, as members of Native communities, and teachers who themselves grew up in low-income communities. Nationally, though, 40 percent of our students are African American and Latino and fewer than 15 percent of teachers are. Teach For America strives to move the needle in this regard, and push for diversity in our corps. Currently, 25 percent of our teachers are Latino or African American, and 39 percent identify as people of color; 27 percent of our teachers this year are first generation college graduates as well -- although this isn't enough, we're making progress.

But our organization is just one way that young people can enter this field -- many pathways bring great leaders to this work. We've found that though just 15 percent of our applicants considered a career in education to the corps, we've got 66 percent of them working in education afterwards, and over 80 percent in schools or with low-income communities. The TEACH Campaign isn't about the route teachers take; it simply asks that they step up to the challenge. It calls for innovators and leaders. It calls for folks who can inspire.

I am inspired by educators I've met from all walks of life. I am struck by their generosity, their grit, and their intelligence each day. I admire their drive and their passion. The TEACH initiative is crucial -- but the work to support educators is not a single campaign or an isolated effort. It is ongoing work, and I'm honored to be among so many who commit to it each day.