Teach for America CEO speaks about educational inequity

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Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard spoke to TFA Supporters unite for Muslim Capitol Day students Tuesday evening as part of the VIP Distinguished Speakers Series. Beard discussed how students can apply for Teach For America but not necessarily be a teacher.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard spoke to students on Tuesday on the importance of equal opportunity in education and how any student can become a teacher. 

The Undergraduate Business Council organized the event as part of the VIP Distinguished Speakers Series, where Beard was able to discuss her role and passion for Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that provides education and resources to low-income communities. 

”I think it’s important to ask ourselves who we are and how we will contribute to shaping the future of our country and that’s never been more important,” Beard said. “You might be asking yourself, I am one person and does it truly matter and I will argue that it matters so desperately.”

TFA started in 1989 and was based off of a Princeton University student’s thesis. During this time, low-income students couldn’t receive a proper education due to a lack of teachers. Public schools also dealt with poverty, racism and injustices that not many people were aware of. 

As of 2016, TFA reached 410,000 students in 53 regions, according to TFA. Beard said she hopes students will challenge themselves to help people in need. 

“Young people (should) desperately understand that education is so central to the future of the country,” Beard said. “For you to be a true leader that distinguishes yourself, you need to viscerally feel this. I challenge folks to get in the issue, not stay away from it.”

Students who apply for Teach For America aren’t confined to teaching jobs, but can become administrators, politicians and entrepreneurs, Beard said.

Plan II finance senior David Leister said one of Beard’s most valuable points was her emphasis on having good relationships with her students.

“I think building relationships with anybody is important, especially for people who are eventually going to be parents or going to be mentoring younger coworkers,” Leister said. “It’s important to build those relationships and understand where they’re coming from.”

Beard said the most important lesson she learned during her time at TFA came from surrounding herself with those who were different from her.

“I learned how to work across lines of difference really well,” Beard said. “In a country that is so diverse, I really think if you don’t know how to communicate and build relationships across lines of difference, I don’t think you’re going to excel to your fullest potential.”

Jorge Galan, recruitment manager for TFA at UT who also worked for TFA, said the organization hopes to train leaders and get them a teaching certificate within two years. Galan said he hopes students will see that they are needed in the community that they live in. 

“I want students to recognize that educational inequity is one of our nation’s largest issues that a lot of the times seems to be ignored,” Galan said. “At UT we’re in this bubble; we’ve all made it, we all have a great education but there are communities like East Austin where students are getting failed every single day by the system. I want (UT students) to feel inspired, know that they can make a difference, that they can use their degree to have a social impact and also develop their career.”