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Teach For America Gets Surge of Wannabe Volunteer Teachers

Teach For America (TFA), a nonprofit that places the best and the brightest college grads in understaffed and troubled schools for two years, is seeing a surge in applications. Next fall, 3,700 newly trained teachers will be placed in schools, up 28 percent from the year before. These teachers were chosen from an application pool of 24,700, which is 37 percent larger than the previous pool!

TFA, which was born from a Princeton graduate's college thesis, attracts graduates from the most prestigious schools. About 10 percent of graduates from schools like Yale, Harvard, and Georgetown compete for the spots. TFA is also the number one employer for graduates of Duke, Emory, NYU, and Spelman. The recent increase in interest, allows TFA to be more selective.

So why do top students want to dedicate two years to a tough, low-paying job? For an explanation,


Some speculate that it is a combination prestige provided by the tough competition to be accepted and the student's commitment to community service. As it gets more difficult to volunteer with TFA, does it become an elite program?

Would TFA do more to eliminate educational inequality if it focused on recruiting and training graduates that would stay in teaching for more than two years? Or, will the enlightened outlook and immersion experience of future leaders in business and other fields benefit society and bring big-scale change? Why do you think America students are more eager to give back to the community?


Join The Conversation
krys786 krys786 9 years
I could definitely be wrong, but from what I hear from the seniors around campus, more grads are doing this simply because they're undecided about what they want to do after college, and this gives a nice 2 year time period for them to decide without their parents giving them a hard time about not doing anything productive after graduation! Wow...was that a run-on sentence, or what?!
Meike Meike 9 years
Education in many parts of America is a joke, really... I've never seen a country where so many students take their education for granted. I feel sorry for those teachers who are devoted to make a difference but are unable to do so because they are underpaid by the school systems and are devalued by the worser parts of American society. Is it really any surprise that the troubled schools can't get some of their positions filled? I think TFA should open it's doors to schools outside of the Ivy Leagues. Great teachers come from all walks of life and although one may have a brilliant mind, it doesn't necessarily make him or her a great teacher. A great teacher is one who is both passionate about their subject and passionate about the kids. After all, my professors of computer science didn't have education degrees. The best of them were able to motivated and inspire even the laziest of students.
janneth janneth 9 years
Believe me TFA is no solution to poor public schools. Inexperienced "pretend teachers" with 6-7 weeks of "training", no way. And few remain in teaching, some can't make it for the two years. If you want to improve inner city schools, find the best, educated, experienced public school teachers (who all head for the fancy schools with the best test scores, because they have seniority to pick where they teach), and give them a $5-10 thousand bonus to teach for 2 years minimum in the worse schools. Voila, problem solved.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
"Teachers deserve a lot more credit and income than they get, but colleges and universities need to upgrade the way they teach teachers to teach." good point!
Jillness Jillness 9 years
"Where they get educators who have worked a certain amount of years and proved themselves to be high-quality teachers go into these schools and really shake things up." That is a very interesting idea! I don't know a lot about this program, but the stories of abused teachers are pretty tragic! The education problem in America is so complex. I had a lot of really terrible teachers in school. I knew a lot of kids in college that went into teaching because they didn't do as well in their original area as they wanted to, so teaching was a last resort. I think giving tenure to teachers too early keeps bad teachers in the system....On the other hand, teachers can't properly discipline their kids with out law suit threats. Disgruntled parents have too much power. Many schools are grossly underfunded. I don't know where the answers lie, but I hope we find them soon!
Auntie-Coosa Auntie-Coosa 9 years
I think the program should be expanded. I also think that anyone who teaches should first get a BS or BA in a specific field of study and then go to school another year or so to obtain a teaching certificate. And I think ALL new teachers should receive some kind of tuition-loan forgiveness. It took my daughter 15 years to pay off her student loans and my son in law, who went to grad school, has at least another five years to pay on his. And since it's simple interest instead of compound (like a charge card) there's no savings for paying it all off right away. Teachers deserve a lot more credit and income than they get, but colleges and universities need to upgrade the way they teach teachers to teach. Most of those classes (and I took 'em) were totally worthless. I could have learned it all from a book in my spare time and taken a test to prove I can read instead of sitting through a semester of gibberish and busy work.
shanimalcracker shanimalcracker 9 years
I have multiple friends who ended up doing TFA (I went to UCLA) and I have to say, there is probably a VERY little chance that the people selected for the program have no classroom experience. Like one member said, the interview process (which has multiple steps) is grueling and requires each applicant to come up with a mock lesson plan that they have to act out. All the people I know who went into this were pretty involved during college with outreach programs and student teaching (whether at the collegiate level or lower). It is true that some of the program's teachers end up going back to school (whether it be graduate or professional school) and people in TFA do sometimes have great loan forgiveness through certain programs. However, this doesn't mean that they shouldn't be part of TFA; the experience will definitely impact how they view treating others who are less fortunate and help them in a plethora of ways. And although some people are looking to alternative opportunities in the future, there will always be those who have this experience and realize that teaching is their true calling.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I'm one of those teachers that wanabe out there teaching but can't. Oh well...
bengalspice bengalspice 9 years
I've always been under the impression that the people who get in are pretty prepared to take the challenges of teaching in underprivileged places. I remember interviewing, and wanting to run out crying because the interviewer was so intimidating. The one person who got in from my interview group of everyone in Philly was one bad ass. A friend of mine who was also in the group, but got rejected, ended up teaching for 2 yrs in Japan. She then got accepted into the NYC Teaching Fellowship. She would have taken it if it didn't require her to move so abruptly from where she was at. I think both programs are really great chances for college grads to make a difference in the lives of people in underprivileged places. Considering that I taught kids with behavior problems and STILL didn't get in because the adults involved are more intimidating than kids, I have nothing but respect for anyone who gets in and makes it the 2 yrs. The same goes for people who do Peace Corp.
syako syako 9 years
Congrats Betty! Go and make a difference!! G.S. That's a terrible story! I hear these stories a lot, unfortunately, which adds to my disdain for the concept
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
My sister did this about 7 or 8 years ago. Different program, but same idea. She was teaching 6th grade. By the end of the first semester she was getting death threats and had to be escorted to and from her car by the police. She would drive around for at least an hour before going home in case she was being followed. And it wasn't the kids, it was the mothers. She was failing kids that deserved to be failed, and punishing kids that deserved to be punished. This didn't sit well with the parents. And, the first thing all of them said was, "You are just doing this cause we're black." Sigh. This particular school districts longest employee over the past five years is two years teaching.
ktownpolarbear ktownpolarbear 9 years
i agree with colleenb. my friends who've done this did it b/c it looked good on their law school app, or resume, not b/c they wanted to teach. they put in their required 2 years, and then they were out. and, really, who cares if the teachers come from ivy leagues, should that even matter?
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
I agree 100% with you Sy. There are many teachers out there that should not be. PS. I picked a Major .... Education :)
The-City-Girl The-City-Girl 9 years
I'm excited that there's an increase in enrollment, but dismayed by Colleenb's comment. I really hope that they aren't permanently put off the profession of teaching, because American schools DESPERATELY need new stock of young teachers, especially since the main stock of so-called "trench-proven" teachers is set to retire soon. And most colleges have seen a 30% *decrease* in teacher training, SO let's hope this increase can spill over (and that they can find passion in it so that they stick it out long-term)!
syako syako 9 years
I think this program is a bit of a joke. I mean, these understaffed/underfunded schools would do so much better with actual trained educators... I wish there could be a program like that! Where they get educators who have worked a certain amount of years and proved themselves to be high-quality teachers go into these schools and really shake things up. I've just heard one to many horror stories of tfa people getting abused/taken advantage of by their students because they had no real classroom experience. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, I'd say it's the hardest profession there is.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
I agree with colleenb; however, I think a lot of people due this b/c some of their loan is forgiven each year they participate.
colleenb colleenb 9 years
I don't think they should worry about getting more prestigious students, but ones who are better matched and will be more likely to last. The people I know who did this either quit early or stuck it out in misery — it wasn't the students as much as it was the poorly run schools they worked in. And, honestly, after some of the stories I heard, I don't blame them for quitting!
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