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How #TFA25 Reconnected Me to the Classroom

#TFA25

Assistant Principal, Nate Geller (left), congratulates an Ánimo Phillis Wheatley  Alum (right)

In early February, 15,000 alumni, corps members, staff and supporters came together in the nation’s capital to celebrate Teach for America’s 25th Anniversary Summit. The Summit provided the space to exchange ideas, meet new and old friends, reflect on our work, and recommit to the vision that initially brought them to Teach for America (TFA).

Across the nation, schools are experiencing increasing difficulty in finding teachers for their classrooms due in large part to decreased enrollment in teacher preparation programs. In California, enrollment in training programs has decreased by fifty percent in the last five years. Schools across Los Angeles, including Green Dot Public Schools, have felt this strain as we aim to recruit and hire talented and innovative teachers who believe in the learning potential of all students.

In order to address this challenge, Green Dot invests significant resources in finding the highest quality teachers in the profession.  Our strategy certainly includes working with Teach for America. Teachers and leaders from TFA, like Nate Geller, Assistant Principal at Ánimo Phillis Wheatley, believe in the transformational power of rigorous academics and supportive school culture. Nate and many other TFA alumni have thrived within Green Dot, achieving tremendous outcomes with students and schools.

How TFA Changed My Life- by Nate Geller

In 2008, Teach For America gave me two life-changing opportunities: the opportunity to learn about a pervasive injustice that I had the privilege to previously ignore and the opportunity to fall in love with a tool to attack it: teaching. Since then, my journey as an educator has been about finding ways to translate these opportunities for me into tangible, door-opening opportunities for students.

I joined Ánimo Phillis Wheatley (APW) last year because it boldly took up the charge to open doors within a context historically known for slamming them shut. Indeed, the prospect of building a truly excellent school and a proof point of transformation work in South LA makes me strongly believe that Green Dot Public Schools was and is the organization in which to actually live out the opportunities given to me by TFA 8 years ago.

Nate Geller

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To the Summit and Back

While we hold strong to this vision at APW, the work is hard, progress can feel slow, and at times, hopelessness creeps in. I attended TFA’s 25th Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C. – along with my Principal, Meghan Maguire (LA ’05), and two of our teachers, Gina Valiente and Daisy Gallegos (both LA ’14) – to remind myself of the reasons I began this journey in the first place. And while the summit inspired through engaging speakers and sessions, it was the feeling of being surrounded by 15,000 like-minded educators – the unspoken, shared passion to upend the status quo that predicts achievement based on zip code – that truly reconnected me to the work I do daily here at school.

All of my favorite moments at the Summit came though learning about stories, organizations, and initiatives that help prove our mission is possible despite a historical context that predicts otherwise.

Key moments for me included: TFA Alum and Professor Jeff Duncan-Andrade speaking about a school’s community responsiveness being a prerequisite of academic rigor and vice versa; David Green’s (of NPR’s Morning Edition) interview of Kaya Henderson, TFA Alum and Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, in which she outlined the innovative approach to city-wide school reform; non-profit leaders and students involved OneGoal, KIPP Through College, and College Track, laser-focused on what it takes to prepare students for entry to and persistence through college; finally, the opportunity to speak with numerous potential candidates for Green Dot, whose talents would help us take big strides towards realizing our vision.

More than anything else, these stories reminded me that thousands of people are waking up with the ability to visualize an equitable future for students despite a current reality that says otherwise. For the past week since the conference and hopefully long into the future, I try to draw lessons from these stories as I begin each day.


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