Interview conducted by Teach for America Recruitment Manager & NU Alum Amie Ninh
As a Northwestern alumna, I’m thrilled that my current job brings me back to Wildcat territory so often. I work as a recruitment manager for Teach For America at a cluster of campuses, including NU. Every fall, I look forward to coming back to campus and getting dollar burgers at Bar Louie, grabbing a drink at Bat 17 and strolling through the Sorority Quad like I did freshman year. But I also have the privilege of connecting with current Northwestern students and hearing about their passion, intelligence, and desire to make a difference in the world. It’s these inspiring conversations about students’ stories, goals, and commitment to equality that make me so excited to get back to Evanston.
Aimée Eubanks Davis, the Executive Vice President of Public Affairs & Engagement at TFA, recognizes this spark among the Northwestern community as well. On October 3rd, she came to campus to meet student leaders at Northwestern and talk with them about their desire to make an impact. I sat down with her to ask a few questions about her role, her campus visit and NU alumni presence in Teach For America.
What brought you to Teach For America?
I grew up in Englewood and South Shore in the Chicago area, which are two neighborhoods that are considered to be low-income. I got to experience the joys and challenges of living in under-resourced communities. Given my parents’ ability as I got older to move to a higher-income, suburban community, it became very obvious to me that the experiences I had as a young person were pretty different than the kids I was going to high school with. I struggled to compete with some of my peers who had grown up in higher income communities all their lives. After experiencing this firsthand, I felt after graduating from college that I should do something that would ensure that kids like me who weren’t able to move to different neighborhoods during high school had an opportunity to have a great education.
What kind of presence do NU alumni have in TFA?
Personally, for me, Northwestern holds a special place in my heart. One of my students who I taught in 6th grade in New Orleans came here for college. Her name is Ketica. She was an outstanding student, and we did a campus visit here. One of the things that struck me about NU was that the person we talked to at the Admissions Office understood that a student with her academic talent and leadership capabilities could thrive at an institution like this, even though she might be in the minority when it came to income background. It was awesome to watch her matriculate here, attend her college graduation, and join TFA in Las Vegas Valley. This is what brings me back, knowing this institution is committed to issues of equity, opportunity and social justice. I’m thrilled NU is a top contributor to our corps and that I get to work closely with so many outstanding alums, including Elissa Kim, TFA’s head of Growth, Strategy, Development and Recruitment, among others. So whether it’s watching Ketica, who now teaches in the neighborhood I was born in, or watching Elissa lead, I am deeply inspired to see the impact NU alums have at every level of leadership in education.
Why should NU students consider TFA?
I understand the impact one teacher can have on a whole lot of lives. To me, this is one of the most unique opportunities to truly make a high-impact difference on someone’s life, not just for a year or two but for a lifetime. I view TFA as a commitment for a lifetime and once you step into a classroom and understand the inequities your kids face, but also realize all of their potential and opportunity, it’s hard not to dedicate yourself to ensuring your students have the opportunity to go and reach their full potential.
How has TFA evolved since you’ve been part of the organization?
We consistently ask ourselves what we are doing well and what we can do better. While great teachers come from all backgrounds, educators who share the backgrounds of their students have the potential for a profound additional impact. Knowing this, we’ve been working hard to diversify our corps. This year we accepted our most diverse corps in history – half of our 2014 corps members identify as people of color. Additionally, we introduced two pilot programs this year — one that expands training for folks admitted early to the corps and another that provides ongoing support and professional development for our alumni in the classroom, beyond the first two years of teaching. While we’re proud of the work we’ve accomplished thus far, we know we have much further to go and are working alongside our community partners, students, and families to constantly get better.
What is your favorite thing about being a part of Teach For America?
First of all, one of my favorite things is being surrounded by people who share the belief that where you grow up does not need to dictate how far you come. This is a group of people who feel the American Dream should be possible, despite the fact that economic mobility is now more elusive than when I was a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago. We deeply know that education is one of the pillars of social mobility; it’s great to work alongside others who believe our society should be based on fairness and justice and will make sure our organization lives up to its creed.
What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in getting involved with education?
There are many paths in education: Some people go the traditional route through a school of education like members of my family did, and other people go through alternative certification routes like TFA. Some folks start out in education through a national service organization like City Year or Blue Engine. These are all ways to get a really rich, meaningful and high-impact job in education. But I think people need to step back and think about the unique impact they can make. It may seem scary at 21 or 22 years old to think, “I had what it took to stand up in front of 64 students every day to make sure they had the skills to succeed over time.” But what I saw for myself and watching my students grow up is that I did have what it took. You’re always going to have a first year at something.
What’s one thing most people may not know about TFA?
One of the biggest misconceptions that I think is very hard to see unless you’re inside of TFA is how much of a learning organization it is. We collect a lot of data and get a lot of feedback from corps members, alumni and external partners. We then strategically figure out how to incorporate the rich and robust feedback.
Another thing that may be hard to see from the outside is the demand for TFA teachers from our school districts. We know that there are schools and districts who really are counting on exceptional leaders from TFA. We continue to realize that there is a growing demand for all kinds of talent to go into education and stay in education. It’s great to see how many of our alums make education their life’s work.