Teach for America looks beyond education majors for recruitment

By Caitlin Huston, Daily News Editor
Published May 31, 2010

As Teach for America welcomes its largest incoming corps, its prospective members are finding an alternative pathway to the field of education.

Though the TFA members will be working as teachers in urban and rural schools, the majority of the corps does not have a background in education. Instead, for some of the more than 4,500 new corps members, the organization is used as a stepping-stone for careers in other diverse fields.

Teach for America is a non-profit organization, in which recent college graduates apply to teach for two years in often low-income school districts. With 46,000 applications received this year and a 12-percent admission rate, this year’s TFA members came through the most selective application process in the organization’s history, according to a Teach for America press release.

According to a spokesperson from TFA, the most common undergraduate majors for the incoming members are social sciences. Following the 34 percent of corps members in that field, the most common majors were government or public policy, math, sciences and engineering. Approximately four percent of the new corps members majored in education.

Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education, said that though TFA deviates from the traditional approach to teacher certification, she feels the organization has many of the same goals as the School of Education at the University.

“Teach for America is very committed to preparing teachers who can be successful with students who often haven’t had very good teaching,” Ball said.

Since the majority of TFA members have not been through teacher training, the members must attend an intensive five-week training institute. Through the institute, members learn the “foundational knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to be a teacher,” according to the organization’s website.

Carolyn Sallen, a 2010 LSA graduate and incoming TFA member, said she was not interested in education as an undergraduate. But after reconsidering her decision to apply to law school, Sallen said she chose to apply to TFA because of the different opportunities it will provide.

“At the end of the junior year, I felt like I didn’t have very many options and Teach for America seemed like the sort of program that could give me options that could take me in so many different directions, and that really appealed to me,” Sallen said.

Sallen said she hopes to use her experience in TFA as a way to either be accepted into graduate school, or enter into an academic administration or non-profit management career.

Sallen, who received e-mails from TFA throughout the year, said she feels she was recruited because she was president of Sigma Kappa sorority in 2008. Three other 2008 sorority presidents also joined the organization, she said.

Of the incoming TFA members, 89 percent maintained a significant leadership position while in college, according to the TFA press release.

Malachi Zussman-Dobbins, a 2010 LSA graduate and incoming TFA member, said he applied to TFA for the overall program, not specifically for the teaching certification. The organization provides him with the opportunity to re-invigorate youth in troubled areas, he said.

“What appeals to me is the opportunity to work in a school where other teachers don’t necessarily want to work, and subsequently the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students who have been otherwise disenfranchised by years of educational and economic inequality,” Zussman-Dobbins said.

Zussman-Dobbins, who majored in economics, political science and Spanish, added that though he was not initially interested in having a career as an educator, he feels that his experience in the program may push him towards that field.

“It’s hard for me to say that I’m only in this for two years because it’s during your second year that you start to realize your potential as an educator,” he said.