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Brunonians continue to flock to TFA

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As the Feb. 19 deadline to apply for Teach For America looms, this year’s graduating class, as those before it, is applying in force to the two-year teaching program.

Fourteen percent of the class of 2009 applied to the highly competitive program, according to regional TFA recruiter Anasstassia Baichorova. Forty of those students are in their first year of teaching with TFA now, she said.

She said she believes that TFA is able to attract such interest on campus because “its mission resonates with students” and because of the personal approach that TFA takes toward the recruitment process.

Baichorova also thinks that “the change in political climate, with Barack Obama’s call to action,” has inspired students to examine ways they can give back to the community, she said.

Baichorova — a TFA alum herself — said for many people, the program is a transformative experience. Before becoming a recruiter, she was a third-grade teacher in the Bronx. When she started, her students were performing well below grade level, but in a year, she was able to bump them up three grade levels, she said. “Seeing them excel in other people’s classes was very rewarding,” she said after visiting her students recently.

TFA alum Sarah Saxton-Frump ’07 echoed the sentiment. “I had an incredible experience in Teach for America. I was humbled, challenged and inspired by my students, the community, the Teach for America staff and my fellow corps members,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

TFA was created by Wendy Kopp as part of her senior thesis at Princeton. Its mission was to end educational inequity by bringing talented college graduates to teach some of the country’s most at-risk students for two years.

Since its inception in 1990, TFA has grown into a large force within the educational community — over 7,300 corps members are currently teaching in public schools all around the United States, and over 60 percent of alums remain in the field of education.

But TFA has not been greeted with open arms by everyone, according to Professor of Education Kenneth Wong. “I think the education community is somewhat divided about Teach For America,” he said. Some “professional educators feel it is important for anyone in a classroom to get some formal training” in pedagogy, but TFA’s approach is more focused on core content knowledge, he said.

While some have criticized TFA’s teacher training program, Wong said, TFA is actively working to address the issue by partnering with colleges and universities to provide continuous training. Wong said he hopes to “have a conversation to explore that possibility” with the new TFA branch in Providence.

Some teachers’ unions have publicly criticized TFA. Last year, the Boston Teachers’ Union wrote a letter to the organization opposing its entrance into the area, according to a Boston Globe report. The union said there was already a surplus of professional teachers in the area.

But others do not see this as a “zero-sum game,” Wong said. By inviting TFA into their schools, districts are widening the pool of potential applicants, allowing the best possible candidate to be hired, he said. “It is not a jobs program. It is a human capital investment strategy,” Wong said.

Wong said TFA represents a creative means of improving the education system. “We have been relying on the traditional way of filling teachers for the last 100 years,” Wong said. “And for the last 20 to 30 years, we have seen a persistent problem in low-income areas. I think we need to continue to try new strategies, including partnering with TFA.”

Teachers’ unions in other areas have also expressed concerns that TFA’s two-year contract promotes high turnover. However, Saxton-Frump, who originally intended to go to law school after teaching for two years, wrote that her TFA experience in the Rio Grande Valley helped her find “a purpose in life,” and she now is working as a social studies teacher at a high school in Austin, Tex.

When asked what she would tell a student considering joining the program, Saxton-Frump wrote, “I would pass on the same advice given to me by Seth Magaziner ’06. Do it, but you have to want it to be hard. This is not something to be undertaken lightly. This is not something you do because it looks good on your resume. Do it because you want to spend two years of life in service to others. Do it because you believe education is crucial.”

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