Anyone who has been on a college campus in the past 10 years has heard of Teach for America (TFA). As an elite organization, they recruit students who could easily sign with well-known firms or attend a prestigious law school. However, these accomplished students choose to devote two years to work as teachers.
TFA is concerned with raising achievement by placing bright teachers in under-served classrooms. The long-term goal is to inculcate people, who will work in a variety of sectors, with first-hand knowledge of how education works in many American schools. The hope is that those teachers will become leaders in their industries, using both leadership status and their TFA experience to influence educational policy. Teach for America alumni throughout the country are already living up to that hope.
Adam Bonneau, a TFA alumnus from the 2005 corps, explained that, “Teach For America fosters a number of fundamental professional skills that I think would translate to any field.”
Bonneau came to the organization with a background in engineering and economics. He went on to work as a middle school math and keyboarding teacher. TFA appealed to him because he said, “I figured that I might eventually want to go into politics, and I knew that if I did, education would be my number one priority.”
As planned, Teach for America gave Bonneau the opportunity to “see for [him]self how the educational system works.” As a teacher, he saw how the system works and how it is necessary to “work relentlessly” to solve problems. This is a part of TFA’s training.
He said that, “Teach for America doesn’t really try to train people on specific solutions to specific problems. Instead, they train people to identify problems and … to ‘work relentlessly’ to solve them.” Bonneau found that this work ethic was not about effort, but “solving problems creatively.”
As a keyboarding instructor, Bonneau saw that the software the students were using was poorly designed. His experience in TFA taught him how he could address that problem, but at the time he did not have the programming skills to write software himself.
Now, Bonneau is in graduate school for computer science, so he will learn how to write those programs. Plus, he has the experience of “working relentlessly” with difficult problems to prepare him for the intense level of problem-solving required to successfully program.
“Effort, organization, leadership” are critical transferable work skills that Bonneau learned during TFA. They also happen to be key attributes of political candidates.
The information on the After the Corpssection details all of the employers, as well as graduate and professional programs that recognize the value of experience with Teach for America. Almost all of the partnering programs offer a two-year deferral for prospective students or employees to participate in TFA.
Several companies, such as Google and JPMorgan, also offer summer internships and support during the TFA term. Many graduate programsoffer application fee waivers; some offer special scholarships or extra consideration for assistantships.
Business, medical and other professional and graduate programs also offer incentives. In addition to this help with education, TFA has an extensive alumni network. This “After the Corps” support helps right after the two year term and continues as alumni pursue promising career paths.
The New Teacher Project (TNTP) is a non-profit organization founded by TFA alumni. TNTP runs teaching programs similar to Teach for America in cities throughout the country, including the Philadelphia and New York City Teaching Fellows. These programs partner with school districts to bring both new graduates and mid-career professionals into the district.
The TFA alumni who started The New Teachers Project used their experience to craft a new organization and act as entrepreneurs of education. One of the co-founders, Michelle Rhee, is Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools (a political position similar to superintendent).
Michelle Rhee began as a teacher in Baltimore and is now running one of the country’s most challenged districts—putting into action those transferable work skills. She was selected for the position in large part due to her experience with creating and managing the growing TNTP program.
Unlike most of the previous Chancellors, she has no superintendent experience. However, she does have experience negotiating with school districts across the country and most notably, influencing contract negotiations with the New York City School District. She is the youngest of the recent Chancellors, which also speaks to the power of her experience and her focused work after Teach for America.
Given the intense and instructive experience gained through the organization, Michelle Rhee is just the first of many TFA alumni to gain national attention for her work. After their term of service, they have a supportive network and a status, TFA alum, that says they are well-qualified and can persevere in a tough situation. Such a placement ensures that Teach for America’s hope for their alumni’s future work is not just a dream, but a well-planned reality.
You can contact Erika Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org.