Many students graduate college with thoughts of entering the classroom, but they have no idea how to start the process. Teach for America is an option that allows qualified graduates to make a difference and become licensed teachers at the same time.
What is Teach for America?
The education situation in America is that teacher shortages are still a reality for our schools. While certain specialties such as science, math, and special education are in high demand in rural and low-income schools, it can happen that even English and Social Studies teachers are in high demand. Across America, there simply are not enough licensed teachers to fill our classrooms. Teach for America (TFA) is a program designed to help place new college graduates into these unfilled teaching positions, often in rural and low-income districts.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
Many students emerge from college with the desire to teach but lack the appropriate credentials to enter the classroom. Even in districts with teacher shortages, they are often hesitant to interview teacher candidates who don't already hold a credential. Teach for America is a program that will help you work toward your teacher's license by placing you full time in a classroom. While admittance to the program and placement doesn't automatically get you a teacher's license, it does get your foot in the door.
In many states, there are state-funded alternative teacher certification programs that you can qualify for to earn your teacher credential. The catch to these programs is that you need to hold a full time teaching position, typically in a public school, to qualify. Teach for America places you in a classroom for two years, during which time you can earn your teaching credential so that by the third year you are qualified to remain in the classroom if you wish, or move on to other opportunities in education.
The Application Process
To begin the Teach for America application process, you must go online. They require that you enter your work experience, the courses you have taken, and your resume. They do this so that they can determine whether or not you have the subject matter expertise to be placed as a classroom teacher. Typically this means they are looking to see if you have an adequate number of courses to meet the subject matter requirements for the states in which they operate. For example, before they place you as a science teacher they want to verify that you have taken enough credit hours in science classes such as chemistry, physics, and biology.
The next step once you pass the screening phase is to schedule an interview. Teach For America offers a flexible interview process that you can complete face to face, or virtually -whichever is more convenient for you. Once you have set a date and time, you need to prepare for the actual interview. One facet of the interview involves you teaching a five-minute lesson so that TFA can assess your aptitude for teaching. You will deliver this five-minute in whatever interview format you chose, face to face or virtually - so consider that when you are planning your lesson. You will also be required to do some assigned reading, and upload your transcripts.
If you pass the interview, you will have additional paperwork to complete so that TFA will know the regions you prefer to teach in. After that, they will offer you placement in a specific school, grade level, and subject area. You have the discretion at that point to accept or decline the position. Your salary and benefits for the teaching position will be determined by the school district you are placed in. Finally, you will be expected to complete a few weeks of basic training to prepare you for your teaching position.
Earning Your Teacher Credential
So Teach For America got you a position, but it is still up to you to earn your actual teaching credential if you wish to stay in the classroom past your two-year placement. In most cases, you will be eligible for alternative teacher education programs which will vary by region, as will be money available to help you fund any college courses you will be required to take.
For example, in some states, a TFA position will make you eligible for state-funded alternative teacher education programs. The benefit of these programs is that the amount you pay for your license will be minimal. In these programs, you complete your training by taking seminars on weekends and school breaks. In some states, you can even complete the bulk of your coursework online. Certain states will require you to complete a few additional courses at a college at the end of the program, which you will be expected to pay for.
If a state-funded program is not an option, there are plenty of others. Most colleges with education programs offer a fifth-year option, which can be completed in 2-3 semesters. In this option, you complete the required coursework for a teacher credential in your subject area. Your full-time teaching position counts as your 'internship' hours. You will also be expected to pass certain Praxis or similar exams based on your subject area.
A final alternative, which will also reap you a higher place on the teacher pay scale, is earning your Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) as a path to your teacher credential. In the typical MAT program, you complete courses that are a combination of the typical fifth-year program courses, with additional more advanced topics built into the program. You will also be expected to complete some culminating project or thesis-type paper as part of the program.
Teach for America
Choosing to use Teach for America as a means to your teacher credential can be a sound path to earning your teacher's license. You have the benefit of being able to work full time and earn a credential together, which means you may be able to avoid spending money out of pocket or taking out student loans to cover the credential courses you will need to take. In some cases, you may be eligible for grants or even state-subsidized alternative certification programs because you were placed under TFA.