Teach for America

If you're a college junior, thinking about what to do after graduation, perhaps Libby Quaid's Associated Press article will give you some focus:

More college grads join Teach for America

When school starts next fall, Teach for America will send an unprecedented number of college graduates to teach in poor communities across the country — but not as many as the group would like.

Teach for America this year chose 4,100 recruits from more than 35,000 applications. While the group has never accepted every applicant, this was the first time it had to turn down people who met all its rigorous criteria.

The Teach for America Web site has all the information you need to find out how you can serve. Here is the Teach for America mission:

At Teach For America, we are working with a great sense of urgency to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting our nation's most promising future leaders in the effort.

We recruit outstanding recent college graduates of all majors and career interests and working professionals to commit to teach for at least two years in urban and rural public schools, and we invest in the training and professional development necessary to ensure their success as teachers in our highest-poverty communities.

Our teachers, also called corps members, go above and beyond traditional expectations to lead their students to significant academic achievement, overcoming the challenges of poverty despite the current capacity of the school system. Additionally, in succeeding with their students, corps members show that children in low-income communities and children of color can achieve at high levels, thus influencing the prevailing ideology.

At the same time, we know that teachers who go above and beyond to compensate for the extra challenges facing children and the weaknesses of the system are not the ultimate solution. We believe that the best hope for a lasting solution is to build a massive force of leaders who have the insight and conviction that comes from teaching successfully in low-income communities.

Quaid goes on to cite some specifics from Wendy Kopp, Teach for America founder and CEO:

"For the last nine years, really the only constraint on our growth has been recruits, just finding enough people who we really believe are ready for this," said Wendy Kopp, the group's founder and chief executive.

"This is the first year when we've had to turn away people who would have met our admission bar in any previous year," Kopp said.

The constraint is the economy. Tighter budgets have forced some school districts to cut back on hiring, though overall 500 more spots for Teach for America are available this year. Also, those who give to nonprofits like Teach for America are either holding the line or cutting back on their charitable giving, which pays for training and professional development for the recruits.

Despite the belt-tightening, some communities expect an influx of new teachers from the program, especially in rural areas. South Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta will have more than double the number of recruits this year.

In Mississippi, state schools chief Hank Bounds asked Teach for America for at least 200 new teachers. Bounds believes the program's high-achieving graduates will play an important role in turning around his state's struggling schools.

As noble and idealistic as Teach for America appears, not all aspects are without their critics:

Teach for America has endured its share of criticism. Recruits are less likely to stay in the classroom than those who come from traditional colleges of education, although opponents point out that the low-income schools where they work have much higher turnover anyway.

Still, after their two-year commitment, two-thirds of Teach for America alumni are still working in education, according to the organization. About one-third are working as classroom teachers, and others are in administrative jobs such as principal or school superintendent.

Opponents have also questioned the effectiveness of TFA teachers, although a growing body of research suggests they are as effective or more effective than teachers who followed more traditional routes to the classroom.

So, there are pros and some cons to consider. However, if you're looking for a way to serve America, especially disadvantaged Americans, Teach for America may be one avenue worth exploring.

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