The school year has barely begun and I am already being bombarded with Teach for America application information. Never mind that I’m a junior and I can’t apply anyway. TFA just wants everyone to know about this shining opportunity to “become lifelong leaders for expanding educational opportunity for all children,” as written in an English department e-mail on Aug. 17. I have a feeling that by December, I will have received at least 10 other e-mails inviting applications and visits to information sessions.
We get it. TFA-mania has arrived. As a lucrative post-graduation option that guarantees a solid-paying job for two years, it’s become a particularly appealing proposition for those who want a break before entering graduate school. According to The New York Times article, “A Chosen Few Are Teaching for America,” TFA hired more seniors than any other employer this year from institutions like Yale University and Dartmouth College. Plus, it’s a feel-good job — those accepted get to dig their hands into one of America’s hottest social issues and potentially change lives a la Freedom Writers. Whether alumni move on to medical school or law school, consulting firms or marketing departments, TFA can provide valuable life experiences fit for any personal statement or cover letter.
If I sound cynical, I’m really not. I’m just worried that people only see TFA as either a resume booster or a magic solution to the problems with the education system.
It’s time that fans and critics alike step back and acknowledge TFA for what it is: a window into the world of education for those who don’t necessarily want to teach for a living. Despite the public’s high hopes, TFA isn’t just a teacher-minting factory. It also aims to produce future non-teachers who will be able to impact education from the outside, whether it has the 61-percent retention rate it boasts on its website or a rate that’s far, far lower.
Of course, there will be plenty of qualified Penn students who will join TFA to start their careers in education. Many of them will have already got their taste of how dire the achievement gap is by tutoring in West Philadelphia schools during college or spending their summers organizing summer schools. They will become the teachers that will stay and fight for their students’ success from inside the classroom.
I have friends who will be part of the corps for the next two years, and I greatly admire their love for the kids in their classes. The passion with which they tackle the challenges of teaching is probably a characteristic that TFA is looking for in the high-achieving students at Penn.
But for those who leave the education field once their service with TFA ends, what they learn during the two years can still make a difference. Jonathan Lee, a 2010 College graduate and a new TFA corps member, wrote in an e-mail that he still plans on going into medicine, especially since his TFA experiences in the past few months have given him even more reason to keep pursuing that dream.
“Some students come into school sick because they cannot seek medical treatment and this affects how they perform in school,” he wrote. “When I become involved in the medical field, I want to be an advocate to offer medical treatment to all minors who do not have health insurance.”
That’s one takeaway that could be applied well, but what will other alumni do with their insider knowledge? It would be purely idealistic to think that everyone will be involved in careers with direct ties to education. But I sincerely hope that the insights they amass within their two years of service will go beyond writing about their enriched leadership and communication skills on applications and sharing unique cocktail party stories.
Sarah Ryu is a College junior from Harrington Park, N.J. Her e-mail address is ryu@theDP.com Ryu’s Clues appears on alternate Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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