Dwight Hall hosts founder of Teach For America at tea

Emily Weiss ’02 is unsure whether she wants to apply to Teach For America.

So on Wednesday, Weiss joined about 30 other students at Dwight Hall for a Master’s Tea with Wendy Kopp, sponsored by Dwight Hall’s Education Network. Kopp is the founder of Teach For America, an organization that sends college graduates to teach in low-income communities all over the United States.

“She’s an inspirational speaker,” Weiss said. “It was very encouraging.”

Teach For America was first conceived by Kopp, then a public policy major at Princeton University, as her senior thesis. Her vision was to give young people all around the country a real opportunity to effect social change.

In 1989 — its inaugural year — the program had over 2,500 applicants and raised $2.4 million from various corporate sponsors. It admitted and trained 500 members for two-year terms at schools in six different geographic locations throughout the country.

Since then the program has placed 7,000 college graduates as teachers in schools nationwide.

Yale students have been active in Teach For America since the beginning. One of the first students who offered to help Kopp get her brainchild off the ground was a Yale undergraduate who passed flyers under doors.

Last year Teach For America received 43 applications from Yale students, 26 of whom were offered positions and 21 of whom are now with the program. The 50 percent acceptance rate for Yale students is significantly higher than the rate at other colleges, which is about 20 percent.

During the question and answer part of the discussion, many Yale students asked Kopp about the “burnout problem” — the fear that many idealistic, ambitious Teach For America participants are discouraged from teaching careers by the harsh realities of dysfunctional classrooms and failing school systems.

Kopp countered that argument by citing a recent statistic compiled by Teach For America about its members and alumni.

“Sixty percent of our alumni have chosen to continue teaching beyond the two-year minimum … out of the remaining 40 percent who do decide to move on to other fields, 20 to 30 percent continue to work with low-income communities in some way,” Kopp said.

“From a study we did last year, 95 percent of our core members said that they would choose to do Teach For America again if they had the opportunity,” Kopp said in an interview after the tea.

When asked how the program identifies and trains successful teachers, Kopp replied that good teachers had many of the same characteristics as leaders in other areas. She said they need to have a vision in their minds before they step into the classroom; they need to set high goals for their students, and then work relentlessly to motivate their students to achieve these goals.

“Ninety-six percent of principals surveyed found our teachers to be advantageous to their schools,” Kopp said. “Principals have told me that we helped re-energized their faculty — it reminded them of why they got into teaching in the first place.”

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