Wendy Kopp on Developing 'Teach For America'


We're going to jump into it. Which i questioned. Skim your resume for us. Well my resume. A is not that long because as you just said <hes> i thought of an idea when i was a senior in college that has really kept me busy ever since i never would have guessed that i would still be going at it thirty years later that it would take me all across this country tree and really all across the world i through teach for america and now teach for all and that's really the extent. I don't even have a resume. I hope never to have won well. So what is not on your linked in <hes> that we should know about you. Maybe the other side is that i have four kids a loving loving husband and a wonderful family we talked about when i was looking at the names teach for america and then teach for all and i was thinking teach for all like do feel like career working down in america and now you're moving goodness <hes> no in fact green for many many years until maybe thirteen fourteen years ago i had my head down fully focused on the massive inequities and continuing challenges in the u._s. I had honestly i mean it's almost embarrassing to say now but it i'd never thought about the rest of the world. Is it related to this. <hes> what happened was that i started meeting. People i mean never something in the water and within one year i had met thirteen people from thirteen different countries who were just determined that something similar needed to happen in their our country and we're looking for help and that is what ultimately led to the launch of of teach for all twelve years ago now as a network of independent locally led organizations in now fifty soon to be more than that <hes> countries and growing walk us through what what it meant to to step down from teach for america to do teach for all like what that meant for you and your career <hes>. It's so interesting because i must admit admit. I don't think i thought about it. As stepping down exactly i think in the five years prior teach for america had doubled in size and teach for all had grown from zero to twenty five network partners <hes> and sort of as i have done and his anyone growing enterprise is does at every year along the way you kind of constantly. Ask yourself like what does this need. You know like what what teach for america need. What is teach for all need and it it just became came really clear that each of these organizations needed dedicated leadership and <hes> you know there was so much the amazing leadership at teach for america and it just felt like it was ready for <hes> you know lisa vian wave beard is an incredible bowl woman who really grew up in one of the communities in which teach for america works and then became a core member and then you know joined our team and really help build teach for america <hes> you know to to step forward and lead the organization which she now does so it it wasn't it wasn't hard like i didn't feel like i was giving something up. It just felt like this is great like she can take it to the level. It needs to go to an and i can put all the more energy and entities for all which it needed at the time. I'm as well so i'd be hard pressed to find another example of someone who senior year college project has received accolades and honor degrees that have income from it truly you have wind so many awards. You've earned fourteen honorary doctorates which one is the meant to most to you. I honestly just i feel so unbelievably privileged to have somehow found my way to this idea that has enabled me to you know work with such incredible wool hearts minds and souls all over the world who are kind of drawn to the same thing in to be part of something that's making such a meaningful difference <hes> <hes> and that's that's all i focus on honestly. Did you have a moment that when you got the presidential medal of honor where you're like. How is this happening have to admit i mean this. It's just not it's not just me going this far. What does a typical day look like for you. Do you have a routine then. Is there consistency in your days. There's so much variety in my days. I mean i just got back from two weeks across you know visiting teach for afghanistan and and teach for nepal and teach for india and teach thailand <hes> and then went on a week of fundraising on the west coast and now i'm i'm in new york which is a rare thing we're actually live and i'm like just got my days packed with internal meetings and that's part of the beauty of this whole thing you know <hes> but i try to stay on a bit of a routine like i get up really early and look at what has creeped into my email box <hes> and you know gonna run women and then get my day going so and i go back to you as the college student. Who are you in college and when you think about looking back a who you were that in who you are now. How are you different. Oh gosh that's a really good question. I was in total funk my senior a year and i could not think of it these topic. I couldn't think of anything i wanted to do after i graduated and i think where did you go to school. I went to princeton and until hill my senior year i had been in overdrive from birth rate like but i think it was almost being in that funk that ultimately led to this inspiration like i was was just searching for something i knew i was going to work incredibly hard whatever i did and was just searching for something that would make a meaningful difference aunts and i felt that i wasn't alone that. I was like one of thousands of people out there who were searching for something similar and that's really what led to this idea like. Why aren't we being called upon. I mean at the time we were being called upon so aggressively to commit just two years to work on wall street. You know it's like why aren't we being recruited ended as aggressively to commit just two years to teach in low income communities like to address the equity and opportunity you know <hes> so that's what led me to the idea <hes> which i was the last senior to declare a topic. I couldn't even find an advisor anyway at from the minute minute. I thought of it. I just realized this has to happen and i've been obsessed ever since so anyway i don't even know how to explain all the ways which i have changed and evolved. It would be hard to rebuild pieces. I think i had little con. Have you ever read a <hes>. Honestly several years ago and realized yeah like i don't want to. I wouldn't wanna read. I know i mean you can just imagine the incredible credible learning curves on every front that i have con- through from first of all just the substance of the work i mean you know really what it takes to recruit and develop people who will be effective teachers for the kids facing the greatest challenges and who will learn the right lessons and then go onto effect systemic change. I mean just i had really no idea <hes> what would be entailed in that and then all the other aspects from how to build a strong organization to how to actually build a sustainable funding base to how to navigate the politics of of the world <hes> and i think i went through just massive learning curves with teach for america and then a whole new set of learning curves teach for all how do you build a network that you know has everyone united but also everyone encouraged to innovate and <hes> and how do you navigate the foreign aid system. I feel nothing but like incredible privilege to go through all these learning curves. I'd love for you to explain kind of the central thesis around teach for america for our listeners. Yeah and around teacher american also also teach for all really 'cause. It's there's a core purpose that unites all of us across the teach for all network from teach for america to teach for india to too many many any others in between i mean i think we have to start by thinking about the nature of the problem like we're all working to address the fact that the circumstances of kids birth predict kicked their educational outcomes and life outcomes and we view that as a really complex problem right. It doesn't start in classrooms. There are whole segments of kids kids in countries all around the world that face many extra challenges. They show up at schools when we're lucky enough for them to show up at schools that were really never designed to meet their extra needs. There's a whole prevailing ideology about the low potential of these kids that fuels the whole thing so it's a complex problem and in the face of a complex problem like that. There's no one solution right. We're not going to solve this problem with any one thing not with roic teachers not with a different curriculum not with a laptop happen. I mean this is gonna take so many changes to really address and and our whole belief is you know we we need to change the whole system and that's that's gonna take a lot of people at every level of the system at every level policy across sectors in communities you know coming together around a vision for all kids having the chance to fulfil their potential so we think of our mission as to develop collective leadership to ensure all children fulfill their potential <hes> and sharon approach to doing that which is all around kind of galvanizing a rising generation of leaders in any given country to channel their energy into the arena of working with the most marginalized kids initially commit two years to teach knowing that those two years can can be really important for the kids. They're working with and also knowing that what you learned through that process for the teacher themselves so transformation like it changes everything your understanding of the problem your commitment to addressing it and it becomes foundational for a lifetime of leadership and so we're trying to grow the force the people who throughout their lives working at every level of the system and and across sectors will be committed to working for change and who through their own leadership leadership will support and catalyze the leadership of others their students. The students parents other teachers in the schools others in their communities. You just talked about how big the issue is isn't. There isn't one solution when you think about doing this for thirty years. How'd you keep that passion up. Do you burn out. Do you ever feel like this is just too big. I think one of the things about this role of mine is that i mean every day a a c juxtaposed on the one hand the incredible disparities and inequities were addressing and on the other hand evidence evidence that it really is possible to solve them and i think that juxtaposition has kept me going for thirty years. I honestly don't think i've ever felt burned out. <hes> you know again. I feel like it's such a privilege to be able to see this at so many different levels like i can zoom in and be kind of somewhat proximate to the issues and and then zoom out and see real evidence. I mean honestly right now. What keeps me going just seen what's happening in communities where we've been working for in some cases thirty thirty years and to see you know if you have historical perspective despite the fact that yes. It's not anywhere near where we need it to be today. If you have historical perspective you realize oh my gosh but how much worse it was even twenty years ago. Is the school or study you went into. We started in in six areas of the u._s. In new york city los angeles new orleans <hes> some rural communities in north carolina and georgia when you skimmed your thesis or when you think back to the lessons of those earliest years.

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