A lack of funding and resources in America’s public education system has made a large impact on public schools in low-income areas. The absence of properly trained teachers is one reason why children in those areas receive poor levels of education.
Teach For America seeks to eliminate this problem. In an effort to close the country’s achievement gap, the nationwide TFA program recruits and trains highly motivated individuals to teach in these disadvantaged regions.
“By the time children in low-income levels are nine, they are back three grade levels. I had fourth graders who couldn’t read [the] Harry Potter [series],” said Amber Saloner, Pacific Coastal Senior Recruitment Director for TFA.
“We want to equip them. We want you to empower the students,” she said.
Students who wish to become a part of the program must have a 2.5 GPA and Bachelor of Arts degree by June of the year they apply. Although U.S. citizenship is required, a separate application for international students was recently created. There is no required major or minor to be eligible for the program; only 2 percent of corps members are education majors, Saloner said.
Avani Patel, a TFA corps member and UC Davis alumna, said although her focus on sociology, African American and African studies and political science didn’t help her directly, she still managed to connect her classroom efforts with her teaching.
“Through the classes I took at UC Davis, I was given the opportunity to expand my knowledge,” she said in an e-mail interview. “Just miles away, [people] were denied the opportunity because they were not given an education that is ‘good enough’ to move them along.
“Joining the corps for me meant that I would be able to continue working with children andprovide services to them that I thought would help them in the long run.”
Despite the lack of specific requirements, recruiters still look for strong academic achievement. Students with mathematical and scientific backgrounds are encouraged to join due to a low supply and high demand for teachers in those areas.A strong interest in social justice is also recommended.
Once one is accepted into the program, beginners must undergo an intensive five-week training course. The courses are taught by former corps members.
Members typically work for TFA for two years. When put to work, salary is equivalent to that of a beginning teacher. AmeriCorps, a national service network and TFA’s sponsor, distributes a stipend to members of just under $5,000 for each year of service. The stipend must be used for educational purposes such as paying off personal school loans.
“This is definitely the hardest job I have ever had and likely ever will,” said Julie Thompson, another UC Davis alumna and corps member in an e-mail interview.
Students thinking of becoming corps members have to remember that they are dealing with children who face daily hardships both in and out of school, Thompson said.Despite the challenges she faces as a teacher, she added that her students face even more.
“The violence, poverty, social issues and stress that they have to deal with everyday reminds me how important my job is and keeps me committed,” she said.
Overall, all corps members interviewed said that their work is rewarding and is essential in their fight to ensure equal access to better education.
“It’s all worth it,” said Hayley Steffen, another fellow corps member. “I had kids who didn’t know how to read at the beginning of the year, and now they read independently. When you see the leaps and bounds, it’s all worth it.”
The best way to start work with TFA is to sign up to become a campus volunteer. Visit the Internship and Career Center for more information.
DANAI SAKUTUKWA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.