For thousands of impoverished children in the United States, receiving an effective, strong education is a challenge. School funding issues, teacher apathy, and difficult neighborhoods all negatively affect a child’s education.
However, several organizations in the country dedicate themselves to providing the best educational opportunities for this disadvantaged group. Teach for America is a national organization that recruits and trains bright, engaging individuals committed to making the best of difficult educational environments.
Teach for America seeks to meet a growing need for effective teachers. In 1989, undergraduate senior student Wendy Kopp wrote a thesis paper that became the outline for the organization. TFA was envisioned as a pathway for students who were not traditionally trained as teachers to enter the profession, while focusing their efforts on the less fortunate.
Teach for America corps members commit two years of their lives to teaching children of at-risk communities. Through leadership skills and dedication, these members seek to change the educational landscape for the positive.
Initially derided as implausible, if not impossible, by her academic advisers, Kopp went on to implement her idea into reality. Since 1990, Teach for America has recruited 33,000 teachers and taught more than 3 million students in 43 urban and rural communities.
- Who can join Teach for America?
- How does Teach For America work?
- Putting it all into practice
- Benefits of Teach for America service
Who can join Teach for America?
Teach for America is an excellent entry point for teachers who wish to make a difference in the lives of a neglected population. If you’re a college student not majoring in teaching, but has always felt the pull of helping others through educational experiences, TFA is for you.
Today, according to the TFA website, more than 16 million American children face challenges to their education because of poverty. Teach for America seeks to narrow this achievement gap, and looks to employ individuals who will become future leaders in their communities.
Teach for America recruiter Megan Morton said the organization specifically looks for students with potential.
“Teach for America has a philosophy that great teachers are leaders,” Megan said. “We accept the people that we accept because we believe they have a skill set that we can build upon to make them effective at teaching.”
The organization typically recruits students who have excellent grade point averages, in addition to those who have shown initiative in extracurricular organizations and their communities. Because TFA doesn’t typically recruit traditionally-trained teachers, the organization provides training and support to ready its members for the education field.
Teach for America affected locations
Teacher for America Teach for America reaches out to 46 urban and rural communities, including:
- Bay Area
- Las Vegas Valley
- Los Angeles
- Dallas-Fort Worth
- New Mexico
- Greater Newark
- Greater Philadelphia
- Rio Grande Valley
- San Antonio
- Kansas City
- Northeast Ohio
- New York
- South Dakota
- Southwest Ohio
- St. Louis
- Twin Cities
- Eastern North Carolina
- Greater Nashville
- Metro Atlanta
- Mississippi Delta
- South Carolina
- South Louisiana
- D.C. Region
- Rhode Island
How does Teach For America work?
By taking students naturally predisposed to assuming leadership roles and training them to become teachers, TFA hopes to enact positive educational shifts throughout the country. Given the challenges teachers face in low income areas, TFA provides proven and efficient training exercises for its members.
Before becoming teachers, all TFA members enroll in the TFA Summer Institute. At the Summer Institute, members are given a crash course in teaching methodology and strategy, and enter a support network geared to help them succeed in their duties.
This five-week training program includes several different components, including observed teaching, in-class assignments, and feedback from professionals within the organization. The whole point of the program is to teach members how to teach, while they’re teaching.
While this may seem like a daunting prospect to many members, TFA provides coaches, classes, and feedback throughout the summer experience. Each day, corps members teach summer school for several hours, while also undergoing group training lessons.
Lesson planning clinics consist of a major portion of the summer training experience, and corps members are trained by TFA instructional coaches. In their clinics, members explore curriculum development strategies, as well as plans to implement those strategies in the classroom. Each corps member brings their personalized student learning goals for the coming week, and sits down with their coach to select the right teaching methods to reach those goals.
As corps members implement their lesson plans, they meet with their coaches to discuss feedback and adjustments. Additionally, faculty members at the summer schools provide assistance and help to corps members struggling to implement teaching strategies learned through clinics. As corps members hit road bumps in the training process, they are assisted every step of the way by professionals. These systems of support help corps members adjust and identify what it is their students need, and how to provide solutions to problems.
Putting it all into practice
After successful completion of the summer institute, TFA assigns corps members to various schools and regions most in need of effective teachers.
Corps members list out preferences for their desired regions and teaching subjects, but the organization will place members where they are needed most. As corps members begin teaching in their assigned regions, the support from TFA does not end.
During their teaching experiences, TFA members gain teacher certification through alternative routes, becoming licensed as actual teachers in their states. This allows corps members to continue teaching far beyond their required two-year commitment
As teachers, corps members meet regularly with their personal coaches at various checkpoints, reporting on their progress and asking for advice. Coaches help introduce corps members to their fellow teachers in the area, allowing collaboration and introducing members to modes of support, such as resource websites.
Teach for America also provides regular workshops and meetings for corps members who wish to continue honing their skills. Workshops give corps members role-playing exercises, allowing them to introduce lesson plans and brainstorm ways to engage students. These exercises allow corps members to practice classroom management and lesson delivery techniques, with additional feedback from professional coaches provided by TFA.
Benefits of Teach for America service
Corps members receive hours of training, advice, and guidance in their journeys to effectively teach in-need children. One of the largest benefits of service in the TFA are the opportunities given to members for networking and meeting with other professionals in the Field of Education.
Even past the required two year service, former corps members have access to resources and contacts in the field that will help them to succeed in the future. Beyond acquiring a diverse skill set, TFA corps members also gain full-time employment, in addition to a competitive salary. For example, a corps member in New York typically makes between $40,000 and $51,000 a year for their service.
In addition to their salaries, corps members receive health benefits through their school districts, including medical, dental, and vision care. Health coverage vary depending on the school and location.
Even aside from the financial benefits of joining TFA, corps members receive leadership skills and abilities that will carry them past their service. As America’s students continue to struggle to succeed, these individuals will help shape the educational environment in years to come.
Rising to the challenge
An actual Teach for America corps member relates his experiences in the service, and how the organization has helped him meet his goals.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Nick Childers had always felt a draw toward teaching communities in need. But it wasn’t until one of his best childhood friends entered the Teach for America program that Childers began to consider making that a reality.
“As a society, we have neglected public education in this country for far too long and in particular, we have pushed to the margins of society those that grow up in low-income communities in our nation’s cities,” Childers said. “As a Teach For America Corps Member I get to be on the front lines of our nations fight for educational equality.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in history from Vanderbilt University, Childers applied to TFA in 2010 and was accepted into the summer training institute. The rigorous five-week program helped to prepare him for the challenges ahead, helping to train him in teaching methods, classroom management, and lesson planning.
Because TFA focuses on students typically in rougher neighborhoods, the summer institute emphasized culturally-sensitive teaching methods, and introduces many corps members to issues that may arise in diverse classrooms. Throughout the training experience, Childers received feedback and observation from trained professionals.
“A faculty adviser observed all of my lessons, and I also had a personal coach who observed me and provided targeted feedback weekly,” Childers said. “Additionally, all of my lesson plans were reviewed and I was required to improve them if they did not meet standards.”
After completing the summer institute, TFA assigned Childers to serve in Colorado, where he teaches 10th grade U.S. History and A.P. History at West High School in Denver. Despite the tight timeframe of his training program, Childers said he felt prepared for the challenges ahead.
“The TFA Institute definitely trained me well and I felt confident walking into my first day of school in August,” Childers said. “In particular, the Institute staff excelled at teaching me how to backwards plan daily objective-driven lessons and how to successfully manage a classroom.”
Childers notes that one of the most difficult parts of his job is finding ways to deliver content to reach the largest range of students. Childers spends several hours each day planning out lessons, brainstorming teaching methods, and creating materials to help get his messages across to students. Despite these challenges, Childers says TFA has been instrumental in assisting him, especially from other professionals in the community.
“I have received sample lesson plans and answers to many questions from this network of individuals,” Childers said. “Through the community, I have access to many other teachers in the country teaching the same subject as I am.”
Childers must constantly discover new and engaging ways of presenting material to his students, some of whom are below typical grade level. Many students lack the literacy skills needed to approach the subject of history effectively, so Childers must often work on building his students’ background information.
Still, the difficulties and road bumps are more than worth it for Childers, who says he’s engaging in one of the most important challenges of the time.
“Education is the foundation of this country and is pivotal to our success in the future,” Childers said. “As a society, we have neglected public education in this country for far too long and in particular, we have pushed to the margins of society those that grow up in low-income communities in our nation’s cities. As a Teach For America Corps Member I get to be on the front lines of our nations fight for educational equality.”