February 28, 2014

Wendy Kopp proposed the idea for Teach for America - a national teaching corps - in her senior thesis at Princeton. Credit: Tulane Publications / Flickr Creative Commons

Guest:

When Wendy Kopp first proposed the idea of a national teaching corps in her senior thesis – an idea that would later evolve into the organization Teach for America – her adviser’s response was less than encouraging. “He told me I was, quote, ‘deranged,’” Kopp says with a laugh.

It was an unconventional idea for a Princeton thesis: recruit the nation's best college students to become teachers in some of our most challenging school districts. In fact, it was so unconventional that Kopp herself had doubts.

“I kept asking myself, ‘why am I not just taking the normal path?’ I was tortured by it,” Kopp says. “But I couldn’t just let it go. I became obsessed with this idea. I was convinced that it had to happen, and it had to happen right then.”

So she made it happen. A year after graduation, she found herself standing in front of an auditorium filled with the first 149 Teach for America corps members.  Since then, the program has expanded – now, 11,000 corps members teaching in 48 regions across the United States. The Teach for America alumni network includes over 32,000 people, 63% of whom now work full-time in education. 

Now, Kopp is looking to expand that model worldwide, in a new initiative called “Teach for All,” which has her traveling all over the world – from India to Lebanon to Chile.

The scheduling is demanding, for sure, but Kopp says she wouldn’t have it any other way – and neither would her family. Kopp has four children, and says she’s been able to make the work/life balance doable with the help of her husband, a babysitter, and her extended family, who have all been supportive of her globe-trekking schedule.

“When I say, ‘I’m going to miss you guys so much,’ they say: ‘It’s important that you’re doing this! Just go!’” She jokes. “My kids understand why this work is important. They encourage me on.”

Education

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