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October 20, 2008

Early Childhood Education and Career Summit

Having worked as a pre-k advocate and a classroom teacher, I know that there is more than one way to influence the realm of early childhood education.  We need people on all levels -- national, state, local, and school -- to understand the benefits of pre-k and work relentlessly together to advance educational opportunities for our youngest children.  For this reason, I was truly inspired to attend the Early Childhood Education and Career Summit hosted by Teach For America and CityBridge Foundation this past weekend.

The summit was designed to help second year Teach For America early childhood corps members -- teachers who are in the final year of their Teach For America teaching commitment -- understand the myriad of ways that they can stay involved and influence early childhood education in the future.  We heard from expert teachers who have taken on leadership roles within their schools, policy experts who are working to close the achievement gap, education entrepreneurs who have developed creative strategies to increase student achievement, and an employee from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education who oversees early childhood education in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, we had the opportunity to learn from a Washington, D.C. school board member and council member, both of whom are tremendous supporters of pre-kindergarten education.

Hearing from such passionate advocates -- from teachers to policy makers -- was truly inspiring.  It was fascinating to hear how each person got "hooked on" pre-k, and how they've been working relentlessly to increase the quality of and access to pre-k for all 3 and 4 year olds in the country. 

This weekend put my daily work in the classroom into a broader perspective by reminding me of all that I can do, while still teaching, to help advance pre-k in Washington, D.C. and nationwide. Writing to my council member and school board member, participating in advocacy campaigns, and advocating for the needs of students within my school were just a few of the examples provided.

I'm energized to think beyond the classroom about how I can have the greatest effect on the educational trajectories of young children. Having high-quality teachers is one piece of the puzzle, but it's not the ultimate solution.  I firmly believe that to truly close the achievement gap, we need a "massive force of leaders who have the insight and conviction that comes from teaching in low-income communities" (Teach For America, Our Mission and Approach). 

I am only in my second year of teaching, and for right now, I believe that the best place for me is in the classroom.  I love helping my students discover and learn new skills, and I know that I am helping to close the achievement gap by sending my students off to four-year-old pre-k prepared with the social/emotional, physical, cognitive, and language skills they need to be successful.  In the long term, regardless of what career path I ultiamtely take, my work will be guided by my experiences in the classroom and a commitment to the belief that all children deserve an excellent education. 


I had the privilege of joining Jenn this weekend at the Teach For America ECE conference. I was a panelist speaking about the importance of ECE in my efforts to eliminate educational inequity, first from inside the classroom as a teacher, teacher mentor, and blogger, then outside the classroom as the leader of Teach For America's ECE initiative and now graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. As we discussed the various ways teachers and former teachers can effect systemic change, I was inspired by the commitment and energy of second year corps members, such as Jenn, in the audience. I'm convinced that the insights and conviction they have gained from teaching pre-K will motivate them to be lifelong leaders in the broader ECE movement. High quality early childhood education is not sufficient for closing the achievement gap, but it is necessary; but it can only happen if we have leaders within and outside the classroom and in various sectors committed to change. The conference moved Teach For America corps members along this path by providing a forum for them to engage in a dialogue with leaders in the field and to discuss how their classroom experiences have shaped their understanding of educational inequity.

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