CM’s Guide to Teach for America

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Are you interested in education but feel uncertain if you’ll find a permanent home in the classroom? Are you passionate about social justice and educational equality? If you answered yes to either of these questions, applying to Teach for America can give you a temporary pass to chill in the teacher’s lounge. Founded in 1989, this nonprofit’s mission is to enlist America’s recently graduated college students to help strengthen educational equity and excellence in the United States. TFA selects applicants who come from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds to teach in struggling public schools throughout the country. TFA candidates become full-time teachers for two years.


New York City, NY

What they do

Teach for America, a nonprofit organization, aims to give every child a quality education.  Teach For America works to fulfill its mission by matching teachers based on skill sets and proficiencies with disadvantaged schools in every region of the United States. To further this lofty objective, TFA recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in these struggling schools with the mission of assisting each student in their classroom to reach their full academic potential. Teach for America has established a reputation of excellence. Some years the acceptance rate to Teach for America is lower than that of some Ivy League universities, so you know they only work with the best of the best.

What It’s Really Like

If you know anything about education, you know that teachers face unique challenges in the classroom on a daily basis. TFA corps members face these challenges as well. Teach for America teachers work long hours and devote exorbitant energy to being the best educators they can be. “After I get home from school, I work on my lesson plans and those plans can take hours. My advisor double checks my lesson plans and is incredibly supportive of me trying out-of-the-box techniques to connect with my students,” said TFA ESL (English as a second language) corps member Harley Pease. TFA corps members admit teaching comes as a challenge, however, the program also offers its teachers an extraordinary sense of fulfillment. “It’s highly rewarding when I connected with one of my students through our mutual love of music. I used hip-hop to help my student understand literary devices and witnessing his light-bulb moment was incredibly rewarding,” said Pease.

Wondering about the logistics of TFA? TFA teachers do not earn teaching degrees, and selected corps members come from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. They undergo the typical school-district hiring process but teach in schools TFA assigns them to. Despite the different recruitment process, Teach for America corps members receive the same salary as a full-time teacher in the school district they serve. Other program benefits may include transitional funding, housing assistance and student loan forgiveness. Don’t worry about being lonely at TFA. TFA teachers also connect with other corps members placed in their community, which helps young teachers discuss the community they serve and effective teaching strategies.

What you’ll learn

TFA has a reputation for changing the lives of its corps members. TFA alumni leave the program with impressive professionalism and wisdom beyond their years. Teach for America transplants its corps members into new communities that many corps members have never visited before, which inevitably pushes them to grow outside their comfort zones.

Teach for America pushes its corps members to grow as leaders and organizers—here’s where you can finally use your experience from being president of your sorority. TFA creates effective leaders by requiring teachers to develop a vision for the class, take strategic action, adapt to the needs of their students and push themselves to be the best they can be.

“Working in a charter school will shape my perspectives on charter vs. traditional public schools, like one I attended growing up, and that working in elementary school will teach me the importance of early education,” said TFA corps member Jen Gentile. In sum, TFA exposes its corps members to the good, the bad and the ugly in the American education system and helps young college graduates decide which direction they want to channel their passion and professional ambition.

How to get involved

Apply for Teach for America via their online portal. Pay attention to TFAs five deadlines that fall on September, October, December, January and March. Your application package will require organization-specific documents, university transcripts and two letters of recommendation. Should your application stand out, you’ll complete a group interview followed by an individual meeting with a TFA recruiter. Should you be selected for admission to TFA, you’ll receive your regional assignment and a tentative subject and grade assignment. Be mindful of the additional prerequisites, and check out TFA’s website for additional details.

Application Prerequisites

  • Citizen, legal resident or DACA status
  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • Minimum 2.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale (graduate school GPA cannot be averaged with undergraduate GPA). You may be eligible for a GPA prerequisite waiver if you earned a 3.5 GPA or higher in graduate school

Skills that impress them

TFA is hottest during the interview process. They have seven core values that they look for in every applicant: pursuing equity, strengthening community, achieving impact, choosing courage, acting with humanity, demonstrating humility and learning continuously. “The organization seeks out people who will be able to confront adversity and persevere, people who are looking for a challenge, who are leaders and who are genuinely interested in promoting educational equity,” says George Washington University senior and incoming TFA corps member Julia Scolapio. TFA favors applicants that demonstrate a passion for social justice and carry the belief that all children possess the ability to learn effectively.

TFA seeks candidates that have shown leadership during the college career. Such leadership may have occurred within an applicant’s local community, in a campus organization or on social issues. TFA also seeks candidates with excellent interpersonal skills, goal-oriented candidates and academically successful graduates.

TFA wants the best of the best, but don’t let the program’s selectiveness discourage you. TFA’s lofty standards do not, however, mean they do not strive to recruit a diverse group of students. TFA ensures its corps of teachers demographically reflect the United States. TFA actively seeks out first generation college-graduates. Thirty-three percent of corps members are first-generation college students. Any passionate leader makes a robust application for TFA, so if TFA’s mission resonates with you then don’t hesitate to apply. Best of luck future teachers.

The deets

Q: How many corps members are from a STEM academic background.

A: 15 percent

Q: How many communities does Teach for America Serve?

A: Teach for America serves 53 communities across the country. These communities lie all over the country including in the West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, New England and in the Northwest regions of the US.

Q: How many corps members possess a LGBTQ background?

A: 11 percecnt

Q: Does TFA have a measurable impact on the educational experiences of students?

A: Yes. According to a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Pre-K through second grade students of TFA teachers received the equivalent of an additional 1.3 months in reading instruction in a school year, compared to students of non-TFA teachers in the same school.

Information pulled from

Mailinh is a rising senior in the George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. She is a lover of travel, truffle pasta, and all things news/entertainment media.

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