No one enjoys the anxiety of sitting by the phone, waiting for an important phone call—especially when that call will determine one’s life for the next two years.
Across the country, thousands of aspiring educators are doing just that as they anticipate their invitations to the next round of the Teach for America application process.
According to the Teach for America website, only 8% of the 15 million American students who grow up in low-income communities graduate from college by the age of 24. TFA, a heavily donation-funded, nonprofit organization, seeks to reverse this trend and minimize the economic education gap.
Founded in 1989, TFA placed 500 teachers in its first year. Today, over 46,000 aspiring teachers from all academic disciplines and professional backgrounds apply to TFA. As many as 4,500 teachers will be selected for training and placed in high-need, low-income communities.
Loyal Marymount University senior Arthur Flores has begun the TFA application process and is waiting for his phone interview later this week. Flores acknowledges that many see the program as temporary employment: “Teach for A While.” Nonetheless, he sees the broader benefits of an organization devoted to developing leaders.
“They don’t promote that they sculpt teachers forever; they say they work on leadership. If you decide to go to law school then at least you’ll have that [leadership] experience,” Flores, president of the Associated Students of LMU, said.
Regardless of his long-term career pathway, Flores is eager to commit to the challenge of helping students who grow up in poverty. “The opportunity to be a positive role model—especially in high schools—is what I’m most drawn to. I want to be a role model for them. That’s a big goal of mine,” he added.
TFA’s selection process emphasizes the value in recruiting and selecting applicants who share their students‘ socio-economic and racial backgrounds. According to TFA, “Corps members who share their students’ backgrounds serve as powerful role models and have potential for a profound additional impact based on their personal experiences.”
After prospective corps members complete an online application and 500-word essay of intent, TFA invites some applicants to a phone interview and online activity. If asked to the next round, they participate in a full-day teaching symposium consisting of interviews, icebreakers and presenting a lesson plan.
The benefits of the organization appeal largely to college students approaching graduation with promises of loan forgiveness, possible AmeriCorps stipends, and a guaranteed two-year salary with health benefits. Most applicants are in it for much more than that.
Diana Montenegro, also a senior at LMU, is a native of the Los Angeles community of Hawthorne. She credits her high school experience in the ethnically dense district as one of the major influences that led her to the education field.
“I went to a public school that was at risk of getting taken over by the state, so I’ve been in the same situation as most of these high-need schools,” the English major and education minor said.
According to its website, TFA’s applicant wish list qualities include “superior interpersonal skills to motivate and lead others” and “thorough understanding of and desire to work relentlessly in pursuit of our vision.” Selected TFA members do not have to be certified teachers at the time of application. They need to be proven leaders who, according to the TFA website, have “…strong leadership potential and other strengths demonstrated by the most successful teachers in our program.”
Throughout her college career, Montenegro has worked for multiple education organizations. “I’ve been able to teach lesson plans and lead discussions. I got to be there for graduations. It’s all the little things that count for me, the day-to-day interactions,” she said.
Teach for America is particularly attractive to Montenegro as she hopes to earn her master’s degree through one of the organization’s partner universities while getting classroom experience. “I want to promote to kids that education doesn’t stop after high school or college. I really want to push that to them,” she said.
Despite her enthusiasm for Teach for America, Montenegro has concerns regarding effectiveness in the classroom. “I’m more excited than anything; the only thing that scares me is not being able to spark my students’ interests or get them engaged,” she confessed.
All selected corps members receive intensive five-week training, but the hopeful candidate isn’t sure that it is enough. She said that even with the background of an education minor, she is still apprehensive of being in charge of a classroom full-time.
Teach for America describes its training institute as intensive and rigorous. Each corps member teaches summer school for four weeks to “help members learn essential teaching frameworks, curricula and lesson planning skills,” as stated by the TFA website. Members continue to receive educational coaching and access to online resources throughout their two years of service.
Montenegro applied to TFA’s August 19 deadline, and is preparing for her phone interview. If she is not accepted to the organization, she will still enter the education field. Her long-term goal is to get a master’s degree in education administration and eventually become a principal or superintendent.
Flores is also awaiting his phone interview. He hopes to eventually become an education administrator.
By Teresa Rosales
This was written for Ed Cray’s JOUR-431 Feature Writing class at the University of Southern California.