“Educational inequity is our nation’s greatest injustice,” claims the Teach For America website, www.teachforamerica.org. Students in low-income areas are less likely than their middle-class counterparts to earn a high school diploma. Only about 50 percent of them will graduate by the time they reach 18 years old. Of those who do, just 10 percent will go on to earn a college degree.
In an effort to combat this disparaging reality, one group of promising college graduates and professionals seeks to change the academic and life outlook of impoverished students. For years, Tech alumni have joined the ranks of this elite corps. Teach For America, a non-profit organization that recruits recent college graduates to teach, has an ultimate goal to encourage fundamental change in American society that will make it a place of opportunity for all.
Corps members commit to two years of teaching at an urban or rural public school. After acceptance into the corps, a member is placed in 1 of 29 locations. During the application process, candidates rank all 29 from highly preferred to least preferred.
Teach For America annually recruits recent Tech graduates to become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity. Tech is a particularly convenient place to recruit as there is a demand for math and science teachers in low-income areas that Teach For America seeks to fill. Dedication and passion for the cause are crucial to success as a corps member, according to Monique Moore, the recruitment director for Teach For America at Georgia Tech.
“Ensuring that students in our nation’s low-income communities reach their potential takes a tremendous amount of hard work and commitment,” Moore said. “Specifically we look for evidence of achievement, perseverance, strong critical thinking, organizational ability and a desire to work relentlessly in pursuit of our mission.”
In particular, the corps aims to recruit graduates who have recently demonstrated high levels of achievement in academics, extracurricular activities or work and family responsibilities. The average corps member in 2008 had a GPA of 3.6. Ninety-five percent of incoming corps members held a leadership position in at least one activity during their undergraduate careers. Teach For America is open to graduates from all majors; corps members represent a multitude of backgrounds, majors and career interests.
Upon their completion of the corps, members often pursue post-graduate education. Graduate schools are enthusiastic to recruit Teach For America alumni and many including MIT, Stanford and the University of Chicago offer scholarships and assistantship awards.
“Tech alumni who complete the corps typically go to graduate school afterwards,” Moore said. Lauren Miller is a Tech alumna who deferred graduate school at Harvard University to teach in Atlanta.
The concept behind Teach For America began as an undergraduate thesis at Princeton University. Wendy Kopp, a Princeton senior at the time, was certain that her many of her peers were looking for a way to acquire significant responsibility that would make a tangible difference in the world. Kopp believed that exceptional college students would choose teaching over more lucrative careers if the incentive was membership in a prominent teacher corps.
A then 21-year-old Kopp launched a grass-roots recruitment campaign after raising $2.5 million in start-up funding. Five hundred men and women taught in six low-income communities across the U.S. during Teach For America’s first year in 1990. Today, Teach For America’s network consists of 20,000 individuals.