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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Four Things I Learned From Wendy Kopp

Teach for America is a wildly successful nonprofit whose mission is to eradicate educational inequity. Its founder, Wendy Kopp, is worth listening to. Here are four things I learned about call, work and life in general from a recent interview with her. (New York Times Business Interview 7/5/2009)
  1. Desperate Funks Aren’t All Bad: It was in this uninspired state that Kopp moved to New York City to teach in the public schools, which led to her call: starting Teach for America. While desperation never feels good, it often leads to inspired choices. Some of the best spiritual and business teachers say the same thing—William Bridges speaks about the value of the neutral zone, and Richard Rohr writes about liminal space. (For a provocative exploration of this topic from the “living in the suburbs and raising two children” perspective, check out the movie Revolutionary Road.)

  2. Patience is a Part of It: Kopp makes the off-hand comment that things were “pretty rocky for the first decade.” That is decade, as in, 10 years. Just because we are doing work we are passionate about doesn’t mean it will come easy. Or quick.

  3. Boredom is a Bad Use of Energy: In reflecting on her work with Teach for America, she says, “I’ve spent not one bit of energy for 20 years trying to figure out what I really want to be doing.” I hadn’t thought much about how much energy it takes to keep yourself doing something that isn’t the right fit. One more reason to find use your energy for things you care about.

  4. Charisma is Overrated (Perseverance Isn’t): Kopp has found that the best teachers aren’t necessarily the most charismatic. The best teachers are ones who, “in the context of a challenge have the instinct to figure out what they can control, and to own it, rather than to blame everyone else in the system.” And they keep after it, rather than spending time blaming others or the situation. She sounds a lot like Jim Collins describing Level 5 leaders in his book Good to Great (Level 5 Leaders are more plow horse than show horse). This isn’t surprising, since she names his books as being most helpful to her.

Thanks to Wendy Kopp and all who have taught through Teach for America—the world is better because of you.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this story - I have been very interested in Teach for America and love to hear how people use a tough time to dig deeper and end up with something truly good. I want to learn more about Wendy Kopp!
    Margie Stinson