How Teach for America Brings Diversity in Education to Houston Schools

Teach for America has been a cornerstone in creating more educators for the nation. The nonprofit founded in 1989 operates in more than two dozen regions across the country and introduces commitment from young educators into vulnerable school systems. In the latest podcast episode of “Accelerating Texas K-12 Education,” host JW Marshall is joined by Tiffany Needham, the executive director of Teach for America Houston. The two discussed Teach for America’s role in prioritizing education, and how its Houston chapter specifically, has honored the organization’s motto and how it’s playing a role in the Houston school system. 

Prior to becoming the executive director, Needham herself was a corps, or teacher, in Houston schools through Teach for America. She said teachers who join the nonprofit are part of a “network of leaders … who are bound by the belief that every child deserves access to an excellent education.” 

Needham said most of the educators enlisted through Teach for America come in with the intention of committing their lives to education and being leaders. 

Naturally, every educator, parent, and school wants a child to receive a great education, and that often requires certain factors. Marshall indicated that quality education and equitable education are both essential to achieving such.  

Needham stated that while the main goal is to make sure every child graduates high school and discovers their next journey, whether that be trade school, college or certification, the quality comes from their ability to choose  

“We want kids to have choices meaning they’re not bound to a certain path just because that is the only thing education prepares them for,” she said. 

In terms of equity, that is established by meeting all the needs that might arise when children might be coming from limited resources. Needham said quickly that creating solutions to these problems is the biggest changemaker in equitable education. 

“We also know that kids who come from under-resourced schools and often under-resourced homes will need additional resources in order to achieve those goals. So it’s going to be important that we seek out where those resources are needed and then we put those additional resources into the schools that need them most,” added Needham. 

Needham knows this all very well because she also knows the importance of diversity in education. Diversity is also an area that Teach for America has worked to resolve by recruiting corps from various backgrounds. Growing up with limited resources at school and at home made Needham’s journey into higher education much more critical for her family. After completing studies at University of Texas at Austin, Needham discovered Teach for America and learned she’d be going to Houston for her two-year commitment to the program. The experience quickly helped her realize why diversity in the body of educators was just as important in the education of students.  

“I was really fortunate to be placed in a predominantly Mexican American community on the north side of Houston, and there was a lot of similarities between the students that I taught, and my own upbringing — my own family,” said Needham.  

She stated that it provided her the opportunity to be the representation in the classroom for students who could relate to her educational journey. 

Needham said that for two decades now Teach for America’s enlistment has grown increasingly diverse, citing that incoming corps were 70 percent people of color and 50 percent came from low-income households or were the first in their family to go to college. 

She added that it was important for students to “see themselves in the people that teach them,” said Needham. 

In preparing corps to become efficient educators and teachers in Houston, Needham said she is focused on ensuring incoming teachers are properly trained, offering the best feedback for improvement, and reaching out to Teach for America alumni for support. 

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