CMU grads go back to school

The number of Carnegie Mellon graduates who apply to Teach for America is on the rise. This year, 36 members of the class of 2007 applied, a 57 percent increase in applications since 2006, according to a report issued by Teach For America.

Teach For America is a program that places graduates from some of the nation’s top colleges and universities in two-year teaching positions in some of the nation’s poorest school districts in the hopes of eliminating the achievement gap in this country.

“Teach For America realized that to change on a broader level, they had to focus on recruitment and increasing the number of campus representatives,” said Bill Thompson, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2001 with a B.A. in business administration. Thompson participated in the program from 2001 to 2004 and served as one of Teach For America’s recruitment directors from 2004 to 2005.

Since 2003, the number of applicants from Carnegie Mellon has steadily increased. In 2003–2004, 16 students applied; in 2004–2005, 21 students applied; and in 2006, 23 students applied.

Eleven members of Carnegie Mellon’s class of 2007 are currently serving their first year in the program.

“To make the necessary fundamental changes in our educational system, we need to attack [educational inequity] from all sectors,” said Ian Stormont, Teach For America recruitment director for the Pittsburgh region.

Teach For America was founded in 1990 by Wendy Kopp, a student at Princeton University, as a senior thesis project. Kopp raised $2.5 million to place 500 college graduates in teaching positions in the schools of six low-income communities.

Today, Teach For America has a network of over 5000 teachers in 26 areas. This past year, over 19,000 college graduates applied nationwide and just over 3000 were accepted. Teach For America also now receives some federal funding and support from foundations and local donors.

By 2010, Teach For America plans to have 7500 corps members in 33 placement sites. Next year, the program plans to open placement sites in Indianapolis, Ind. and Kansas City, Mo.

Teach For America requires members to attend a five-week “teacher boot camp,” which prepares members for the situations they may encounter while teaching. Once members complete the program, school districts are allowed to grant them temporary teaching certificates. Corps members are hired as any teacher in their particular district would be; they are interviewed and placed where their specialty is needed most. Teach For America corps members are paid by the school district they work for and receive the same salary and benefits as other beginning teachers.

Members make from $25,000 to $44,000 per year.

The intensity level of the program leads 10–15 percent of members to drop out before completing their two-year term, according to a 2006 article in Newsweek. Those who dropped the program described not receiving enough support from either their school or from Teach For America, feeling overwhelmed by the challenge, or having trouble managing the classroom, the article stated.

Though difficult for some, many teachers succeed in their classrooms, according to Teach For America Recruitment Associate Cailin McDuff.

“Corps members know that this will be a challenging experience, but when they make significant strides with their students in the classroom while they themselves are gaining valuable leadership experience, they know it’s worth it,” McDuff said.

Stormont agreed.

“We currently have 5000 core members in classrooms and over 12,000 alumni. For the most part there is an overwhelmingly high satisfaction rate, but whenever you have so many people involved in something there are bound to be a few negative experiences; unfortunately, those are the ones that get press,” Stormont said.

While some criticize Teach For America for providing only a temporary solution to a long-term problem, Teach For America has a different long-term approach. Their intentions are that alumni will go out into various fields and spread the message of Teach For America as advocates for the elimination of educational inequality in America.

This year, Teach For America was named one of the 20 greatest employers for new college graduates by Fortune magazine.
“[At Teach For America] you’ll pick up skills you can’t get anywhere else,” Thompson said.

Thompson stressed that Carnegie Mellon students concerned with career goals have no need to worry that they’ll fall behind. Teach For America has many partnerships with graduate schools as well as an educational award of $4725 per year.

Students interested in becoming part of the Teach For America program should attend the Teach For America information session Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Porter Hall 100.