On March 22, I had the pleasure of attending the Bay Area region’s first annual Benefit Dinner, which honored three families who have been integral to the Bay Area’s growth and impact. The event itself, for which individuals and corporations purchased plates and which featured an auction and paddle raise, ultimately raised $1.3 million. This will surely propel the Bay into its massive five year growth plan.
The night was inspiring in myriad ways. Three second year corps members gave awesome testimonies about transformation and change in their classrooms. Donors made verbal and monetary commitments to the movement. Wendy Kopp, the founder of TFA, and Emily Bobel, the executive director of the Bay Area, both spoke eloquently about the Bay Area region’s record and its potential to dramatically change outcomes for its poorest residents. But, what was most striking for me was the attendance and the focus.
Among those in attendance were Condoleezza Rice and George Schultz, the CEOs of Visa and Wells Fargo, M.C. Hammer, and Sue Lehmann. Important members of the business community, politics, education, philanthropy, and entertainment filled the room. And yet, the focus was truly on corps members and on Teach for America. I had driven from the South Bay to San Francisco for the event, dressed in the required suit and tired from the first half of the teaching week. When dinner began, however, it was clear that donors truly valued my work and were interested in the corps’ potential to do more.
Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York public schools, always talks about the necessity to “professionalize teaching.” I think he’s hit on the nail on the head. I know that the work I do is good, and I know that my students deserve the absolute best of me every day. But it can be frustrating to be part of field that at one point may have been respected, but is now often referred to with that old cliche: “Those who can, do. And those who can’t, teach.” I can honestly say that as I grew up in suburban Virginia, I didn’t hold my teachers in the same high regard as community leaders in business and politics. (And, yes, I was extremely frustrated to return home over winter break and find that most adults’ responses to hearing that I am a second grade teacher were, “How cute! What a great age!”)
I am fortunate to be part of both a national movement and charter organization that recognize that those who can, teach. And should be compensated fairly for doing so.
For the kids,