From Campus to Career: The Teach For America Debate (Part 1)
In the fall of my senior year of college, I sat down with a recruiter for a preliminary interview–not for big private investing firm or a political campaign, but for Teach For America.
TFA is a national nonprofit that recruits recent college grads to teach in schools in low-income communities. TFA volunteers teach for two years and are part of a program that involves training, professional guidance, and other enrichment tools (depending on the location, some TFA volunteers are able to concurrently earn a MA in education and teaching at a nearby university).
Besides education, many TFA alumni go on to careers in law, public policy, social services, medicine…the list goes on and on. I’ll be honest–I was never interested in teaching as a career, but I love kids and felt passionate about the problems that TFA tries to ameliorate, so I agreed to the preliminary interview when the recruiter was making appointments on campus. He wasn’t surprised at all when I admitted that I didn’t see myself pursuing a lifelong career in teaching–in fact, he jumped on that and emphasized what a great placement record TFA have with things like law school admissions.
Herein lies one of the big controversies with TFA–is it totally great that it’s providing teachers for low-income schools or not so much because its volunteers are not necessarily interested in teaching long-term? Most of TFA volunteers are not certified when they are accepted–there’s an intensive “crash course” training the summer before they begin teaching–thus, many critics of TFA argue that placing young, inexperienced teachers in needy areas is counter-productive. On the flipside, a friend of mine who completed two years with TFA contended that the organization places the most energetic, dedicated, and least cynical teachers in the schools that need them most.
Hmm. It’s a tricky dilemma. Ultimately, I knew for numerous reasons that TFA wasn’t for me, but I continue to think about it, especially since a number of my friends are pursuing careers in education. Over the next week or so I’m going to get their perspectives on this issue and share it with you. In the meantime, what do you think about Teach For America? Has anyone else interviewed with a recruiter or otherwise explored the program?