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Teach for America for our kids

Mark Martin

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Upon joining Teach For America in 2003, I was the 12th University of Alabama grad to pursue that route into the teaching profession, one I had never considered prior to learning about TFA. The experience completely shifted the scope of my life’s work. In five years’ time, I was transformed from a finance major with little passion for the field, to a passionate education advocate managing over 75 people and running a school in post-Katrina New Orleans.

As an undergraduate, I was the vice-chair of the Blackburn Institute and deeply engaged in many of Alabama’s issues, most notably education. Today, as an unwavering Tide fan and as a Blackburn Institute Advisory Board member, I was disappointed to read parts of Hallie Paul’s recent article about teaching, which misconstrued TFA’s role as a critical partner in the effort to develop effective teachers, expand educational opportunity and drive positive outcomes for students far beyond simply a two-year commitment – whether in the classroom, as school administrators or as community and civic leaders.

It must not be overlooked that TFA’s mission is two fold: 1) to train and support effective teachers in the classroom, and 2) to cultivate committed, lifelong advocates for our kids. TFA’s most massive and impactful educational work at scale is done in the second part of this mission, which was absent in Ms. Paul’s letter.

A growing body of rigorous, independent research demonstrates that TFA teachers have a positive impact on student achievement. Both Tennessee and Louisiana have conducted Teacher Effectiveness surveys that identified TFA as the most effective of their respective state’s teacher-preparation programs, outpacing all University-based programs and other alternative teaching pathways.

Teaching for three years in inner city Atlanta absolutely transformed my career trajectory. My 15 to 20 students showed time and again that, with the right support from a committed adult, they could achieve at the highest levels in the face of the additional challenges of poverty.

Knowing that we can close the achievement gap for students growing up in poverty, I simply could not walk away from this work. After teaching, I spent the next year earning a fully funded MBA focusing in social entrepreneurship from the Terry College of Business at UGA. I have now built a career in education as founding elementary school principal and current School Director of Langston Hughes Academy Charter School in New Orleans, making daily decisions that impact nearly 650 children.

I also serve on the board of THRIVE, which seeks to be Louisiana’s first charter boarding school serving at-risk kids. Two-thirds of TFA’s nearly 24,000 alumni are choosing a similar path to mine, working full-time in education.

Increasing the number of effective teachers from all pathways into the teaching profession is a shared responsibility among all engaged citizens. With more than 16 million students growing up in poverty, this is a time to continue efforts that are working well and to focus on the hard and collaborative work that it will take to ensure we are providing all students with a truly excellent education.

I would hate for any UA grads considering TFA to miss out on this purposeful adventure, and hopefully this letter will encourage some to “go for it” like the Tide.


Mark W. C. Martin is the School Director and Elementary Principal of Langston Hughes Academy Charter School.

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Teach for America for our kids