It's Harder Than Ever to Teach for America

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that sends college graduates on short-term teaching assignments in educationally under-served areas, typically urban and rural. This year, the organization announced a record number of applicants, which follows a general trend from the past few years.

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By Sarah Wright

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A Record Number of Applicants

For recent college graduates, including graduate students, Teach for America is one of several public service options available after leaving school. But it's getting competitive. In 2008, Teach for American received 24,718 applications, which was a record at that time. The upward trend increased, with more than 35,000 applications received in 2009, and about 46,000 in 2010. For 2011, almost 48,000 prospective teachers applied, and only 11% were accepted.

Those 5,200 new teachers will be an integral part of the Teach for America (TFA) mission of training qualified teachers to serve in poverty-stricken areas where educational opportunities are limited. This group of teachers, referred to as a corps, is expected to serve for two years. With the new first-year teachers included, the total corps for 2011 will be 9,300 strong. Corps members are not volunteers; they receive benefits including a salary, student loan forbearance and health insurance.

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Who Was Accepted, and Where Will They Go?

The new crop of TFA teachers come from schools of all sizes and locations. The schools contributing the most graduates are the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, University of California, Berkeley and The University of Texas at Austin, with 199, 89 and 87 graduates joining the corps, respectively. Smaller-sized schools had proportionately smaller numbers of enrolled corps members, including 66 from Harvard University, 49 from Brown University, 36 from Spelman College and 18 from Amherst College.

TFA places its members based on their preferences, their abilities and where the most demonstrated need is. According to the organization's website, math and science, Spanish and bilingual education, special education and early childhood are particular subjects of interest in areas that recruit the corps. Though there are opportunities in most of the main urban centers in the U.S., TFA points to the Mississippi Delta as a particular region of interest.

Is it the Economy?

The sorry state of the U.S. economy is getting blamed for a lot of things at this point, so it seems like a tired excuse to just say that the economy is a factor in a change like this. But the fact is that college graduates these days are faced with a remarkably small number of career choices. The job market and graduate school admissions are extremely competitive right now, and recent college grads just might not have what it takes to beat out the more experienced individuals now forced to vie for the same positions.

Organizations like Teach for America, that are designed to accept recent college grads, are now seeming like a more appealing option for many. But we don't think that's the only factor in play. As an organization, TFA is gaining visibility. And their mission of bringing well-educated teachers to underserved areas is one that is likely to appeal to a generation that tends to feel strongly about social justice and equality. Sure, the bad economy might serve as a nudge toward service, but it would be unfair to assume that these new TFA corps members are in it solely because they can't find anything else to do.

Teach for America is just one way that students in rural schools can learn.

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