April 22, 2016

A Conversation With Jeff Wetzler of Transcend

By Transcend

Education Reimagined recently interviewed Transcend partner and co-founder, Jeff Wetzler, on what fueled his passion for education and where it’s taken him.

Q. What got you first committed to education? Are you still committed for the same reason?

A. My commitment to education really began while I was a learner during my own K-12 education. In many ways, school worked well for me, in that I had wonderful teachers in a safe, loving environment, as well as parents who advocated hard for my educational opportunities. 

When I looked around, I saw a lot of my peers disengaged from learning and fairly disenchanted with school. So, I began to spend much of my time in class imagining what would be possible if school were different, more engaging, more hands-on, more rigorous, more student-driven. Every year in school, I dreamed about being a teacher of the grade level that I was in, and I asked myself what I would do differently if I were the teacher. I know it sounds a little odd…

And then, in high school, I met a chemistry teacher, Ron Perkins—who changed my life. He gave me the opportunity to put my ideas into action by teaching hands-on science to students in elementary schools throughout our district. I loved every moment of that teaching. In fact, I got inspired to co-found a similar program in college called Providence Science Outreach, where Brown University students teach hands- on science in urban schools and libraries throughout Providence, RI. My passion for education deepened in college, where I had the opportunity to study with Nancy and Ted Sizer, whose views on school design and whose authentically designed course experiences (such as ethnographically documenting “moral moments” in schools or designing our own high school) have been a pivotal foundation for me.

Twenty years later, I am still committed to education for all of these reasons, but over the past decade while I worked at Teach For America, my commitment has deepened based on working on education through the lenses of race and class. While the “factory model” of schooling is highly problematic for all students, the disparities in educational opportunity faced by students of color, students in low-income communities, and students who learn differently outraged me. At TFA, not only did I begin to see the opportunity gap in education as an issue of social justice and human rights, but I also experienced how—in classrooms, whole schools, and networks of schools—it didn’t have to be this way…that when students of all backgrounds get the educational opportunities they deserve, they defy all odds and prove that demography is not destiny. This fueled my fire and is what continues to get me up every morning (early). 

To read the full article in Pioneer magazine, follow this link.


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