While many new grads sweat through interviews seeking scarce jobs, 42 from Northwestern University have chosen to give two years of service in under-performing schools through the Teach for America program.
Northwestern is ranked fourth among medium-sized schools for the number of graduating seniors entering the 2009 corps. This year a record of more than 35,000 individuals applied to the program.
“The ranking says a lot about the caliber of students at Northwestern,” said Melissa Simon, Chicago area recruitment director for the program. “They are excellent candidates due to the leadership opportunities available on campus combined with Northwestern’s regard for academics and public service.”
Teach for America is a national organization that recruits recent college graduates and professionals for a two-year commitment to teach in low-income urban and rural public schools across the country. Corps members receive the same benefits and salary as other teachers in their school district and are considered faculty of the schools where they teach.
Previous experience or training in education is not a requirement for acceptance. According to Simon, eligible candidates can come from all academic backgrounds as long as they have proven leadership abilities, a record of academic capability and demonstrate a passion to solving the “achievement-gap” in America’s public school system a phrase commonly used among corps members regarding performance levels of students from low-income schools and those from more affluent districts.
Corps members from Northwestern’s class of 2009 are proud of the ranking.
“We are cultivating a group of students who realize the importance of giving back, especially in this critical economic time and after President Obama’s call for more service,” said Alice Magill, a psychology major and classical studies minor who will be teaching in the Mississippi Delta. “I have a desire to make a difference and TFA gives me an opportunity.”
Emily Machado, a social policy major and Spanish minor who will be teaching English Language Learners in Washington, D.C., echoes Magill. “I applied to TFA because I am convinced the education achievement gap is a solvable problem. It speaks highly of our school to be ranked because it shows many graduates want to help younger students have access to the same high-quality education we had.”
The TFA selection process is rigorous. Candidates must submit an online application, followed by a phone interview for selected individuals and an even smaller fraction is invited to a final daylong interview. This year, only 15 percent of applicants were admitted into the program. According to Simon, this process is necessary.
“We believe education equality is the foremost issue in America and therefore need to be certain chosen corps members are able to give the students an education they deserve,” she said. “Program participation in low-income and underserved schools is not an easy endeavor.”
The 2009 corps members are spending the summer at a demanding five-week training institute to prepare to manage their own classroom in the fall. For many, it will be their first experience in front of a classroom. Undoubtedly, all are preparing for a life-changing experience.
“I don’t think I can put into words how I feel about the coming school year,” said Magill. “There is excitement, anxiety, dread, fear, hope and a million more emotions constantly running through me.”