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My former roommate, Nina, was a Teach for America fellow in the South Side of Chicago. Dropouts, teenage pregnancies, drugs, violence–she had plenty of stories about her students along these lines. But she had another one that was tragic in another way that stays in my mind: one of her students had been incredible bright, resourceful, committed.
My former roommate, Nina, was a Teach for America fellow in the South Side of Chicago. Dropouts, teenage pregnancies, drugs, violence–she had plenty of stories about her students along these lines. But she had another one that was tragic in another way that stays in my mind: one of her students had been incredible bright, resourceful, committed. She applied to Harvard, and was accepted, with a generous financial aid package. Yet she decided not to go. “I don’t know anyone there. It doesn’t feel right,” she explained to Nina. So she went to a local community college instead. Effectively creating opportunities has to mean more than just pointing someone towards an open door.
Maimuna Ahmad, Founder and CEO of the new Teach for Bangladesh, is also haunted by one of her former students during her Teach for America fellowship in Washington D.C. Nequan was gifted, but saw her life potential as amounting to a hair dresser.
Here was a girl who was smarter than most of the friends I went to university with, yet her aspiration in life was to work in a salon down the street and cut people’s hair. I see Nequan everywhere I go in Bangladesh. Nequan is the girl who cleans my home, Nequan is the girl who sells flowers on the street, Nequan is the girl who drops out of school to get married when she is 16, because no one has told her that she can be anything she wants to be.
It’s clear that Teach for All, the international carnation of Teach for America, founded by Wendy Kopp when she was graduating almost 30 years ago, is a network of impatient, but extremely compassionate, optimists. “What excited me, when I started traveling to places like Pakistan and India, was that there was a universality to the problems that I hadn’t expect. It meant that the solutions could also be scaleable.” Wendy shared, at the launch ceremony for Teach for Bangladesh on May 16 in Dhaka. When struggling to decide whether Teach for America could transform into a global organization, she found guidance from BRAC’s founder Sir Fazle Abed (she mentioned this in Dartmouth’s 2012 commencement address).
Since 2007, Teach for All has established partnerships with organizations in 27 countries around the world. Teach for Bangladesh is the newest program to join the movement, and BRAC is pleased to be one of their largest supporters. They are currently selecting 35 teaching fellows for the first year, who will join the school system in January, 2014. Perhaps this effort seems small compared to the scale of the problem. Indeed, Sir Fazle Abed commented that Teach for Bangladesh has “a long road ahead of it.” There will be plenty of critics and sceptics along the way.
And they will not be the first. Over the years, Teach for America has been criticized by some as putting band-aids on a dysfunctional education system. But perhaps verdicts were issued prematurely; like one can see from BRAC’s own story, it’s clear that social change can take time, decades even. In 2012, Teach for America had 10,000 teachers nationally, and in a few places, like New Orleans, the school district administration’s energetic leadership contains many Teach for America alumni. What started as a small dream of a fresh college graduate have transformed into a truly global movement, to support all students not just to pass their tests, but to dream and dare to dream big.
Anywhere in the world, systemic change will require the efforts of young, talented leaders who are ready to work hard in schools across the country. Do you have what it takes to be part of radical change? Teach for Bangladesh is accepting applications until June 1. Leaders wanted!