Teach for America founder discusses educational inequity

Vera Bespalova

The United States was founded on the principle of equality for all. However, for millions of children living in poverty across the nation, educational inequity is still a major factor holding them back from the promises of prosperity.

Last night, Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and Teach For All, spoke to students and alumni in the Shirley Bird Perry Ballroom about the issues faced by these children and how her organization is working to end this inequality, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Teach for America is a national nonprofit teacher corps that recruits recent college graduates to serve as teachers.

TFA was born out of an idea proposed in Kopp’s undergraduate thesis during her time at Princeton.

“I was a public policy major, but more importantly, just a concerned college student,” Kopp said. “Just realizing that this country, which I thought was a place of equality, really wasn’t one.”

After graduating, Kopp founded Teach For America in 1990 with a charter corps of 384 recent college graduates. 

Today, the organization has over 50,000 corps members and alumni, with UT contributing the most new members over the past few years compared to any other university.

“I didn’t really see myself going into business. I didn’t think it would be as fulfilling as this,” said Chiara Geremia, marketing senior and an incoming member of the TFA corps. “I wanted to do something that would directly give back to communities.”

During her speech, Kopp also discussed her newer organization, Teach For All, which was founded in 2007 and applies the ideas of TFA on a global scale, allowing other countries to recruit their own leaders for teaching positions in impoverished communities. 

“We started hearing from people from all these different countries who had come across the idea and wanted to do something similar in their countries, and they were coming to us saying, ‘Can you help?’” Kopp said.

Since 2007, Teach For All has expanded into Lebanon, Haiti, Denmark and 35 other countries around the world. 

Kopp’s speech was followed by a question and answer portion, which featured questions ranging from topics such as the role of technology in education to an attendee accusing TFA of stealing other teachers’ jobs.

“I thought [the talk] was engaging, and I liked that people were able to ask challenging questions afterwards,” said Anikka Lekven, women’s and gender studies and chemistry senior.

Kopp also gave advice to future leaders and social entrepreneurs.

“Success in this work is about walking the right line between confidence … and humility,” Kopp said. “Hold on to your big ideas and your big, naïve questions, but at the same time be very open to learning from others.”