Get Involved: Teach for America
This national organization fosters leadership, excellence and lifelong learningin both its teachers and its students.
Before Claire Crapo graduated from Sewanee: The University of the South in 2009, she knew she wanted to find a fulfilling career that would utilize the positive educational experiences she’d had in public school and at college. Like the thousands of recent graduates before her, Claire applied for a corps member position in the Teach For America program, one of the nation’s largest providers of teachers for low-income communities. When the history major from Martin, Tennessee found out she’d been chosen for the highly selective program at the end of her senior year, Claire excitedly—and somewhat nervously—anticipated meeting her students at Roosevelt High School in St. Louis. The next year would prove to be the most rewarding and challenging of Claire’s young life.
A National Injustice
In a country that promises to educate its youth fairly, the success of many young Americans is often predetermined by the community where they live. In the U.S., there are more than 14 million children living in poverty. In low-income communities, students are already two to three grades behind their higher-income peers by the time they reach fourth grade. The 50 percent who graduate from high school perform, on average, at the level of eighth graders in higher-income communities. “The achievement gap is one of our nation’s greatest injustices,” Claire says. “As a teacher who strives to help students cultivate their strengths, the greatest implication will be that the talents and abilities of a large group of people will be left untapped.”
Closing The Gap
The Teach For America program, proposed by Princeton undergraduate Wendy Kopp and launched in 1990, seeks to remedy this disparity by recruiting outstanding recent college graduates from all backgrounds and career interests to commit to teaching for two years in rural and urban public schools. Corps members, as TFA teachers are called, undergo an intensive five-week training where they begin to lay the foundation toward becoming effective teachers. Today, there are more than 8,200 TFA corps members working in 39 regions. The work these young teachers do is proof that the seemingly insurmountable disparity in our country’s education system is solvable. “My expectations for my students should mirror the expectations of a teacher at the top boarding school in the nation,” says Claire. “My students have the same abilities as students in more affluent communities, and lowering my expectations would only contribute to the misconception that low-income students are not motivated and cannot achieve.”
Soon-to-be or recent college graduates can apply for TFA’s 2011 corps by logging on to teachforamerica.org, where there is information about the organization’s history and ongoing impact, as well as details about what new teachers can expect at training, during their two-year commitments and after their TFA experience.
Those not in a position to become a corps member can still help by making a donation. Donors can directly impact their community by designating which of the 39 placement regions their money supports. Individuals, groups or companies can also take part in TFA’s Sponsor A Teacher program where a donation of $5,000 offsets the annual cost of recruiting, training and supporting a corps member. And, in regions where corps members are currently not placed, individuals can learn how they can play a key role in bringing Teach For America into their community.
For more info about Teach For America, log on to teachforamerica.org.
Photo credit: Photo by Steve Perotti