University News

Teach for America continues to attract high number of graduates

One of just 14 schools to send at least 30 graduates to TFA, Brown continues to foster interest in education

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thirty-one graduates from the class of 2013 joined the Teach for America corps this year, compared to 36 members of the class of 2012 last year, according to data from TFA and CareerLAB.

The number of Brown students entering TFA places Brown 10th among mid-sized schools, or institutions with between 3,000 and 9,999 undergraduates, according to TFA. Brown is one of 14 such schools to send at least 30 graduates into the corps this year.

The number of Brown students who joined the corps this year indicates students’ continued interest in education, wrote Jim Amspacher, career advisor in Careers in the Common Good at the CareerLAB, in an email to The Herald. In 2012, 129 students took jobs in education immediately following graduation — more than in any other field, according to a CareerLAB survey of postgraduate plans for that year.

TFA hired more graduates of the class of 2012 than any other employer, according to the survey.

Jeremiah Otah ’13, a TFA corps member teaching 15-year-olds at Leadership Public Schools Oakland R&D in Oakland, Calif., said he took a somewhat “untraditional” path to teaching compared to corps members from other universities in terms of undergraduate education, having studied economics at Brown.

Otah said his motivation for joining TFA was much more typical of the corps. The neighborhood in which he was raised in St. Louis had a significant TFA presence, and corps members taught some of his childhood friends, he said.

“I saw these young teachers that were dropping my friends off at home, saw these young teachers that were hanging around on weekends,” Otah said. “It was really intriguing for me to see that at a young age, to see teachers in sort of this different light.”

Entering Brown, Otah said, “I knew regardless of what I decided to study, I was going to apply to Teach for America because it was something that … I would be able to relate to,” and it would allow him to use his education to make an impact.

Otah, who worked as a TFA campus representative  his senior year before he was accepted, said the students who joined the corps seemed genuinely interested in TFA as a way to teach rather than as a way to gain credentials. He said conversations with others joining the corps focused on moving to their new community and the privilege of participating in the program, not their plans following the two-year commitment to TFA. Passion drove their work, he said.

“A year ago from today, I didn’t really understand and comprehend how much work it was going to take just to be an effective teacher,” Otah said. “How I’m feeling right now, to be honest, it is extremely hard.”

Despite the challenging work and limited hours of sleep — Otah said he wakes up at 5 a.m. and goes to sleep around 1 a.m. — he said he still enjoys it because of his students. “My mind is constantly thinking and ruminating on how I can be better, what I need to do to help each student to achieve what they want to achieve.”

Otah said his only disappointment with TFA is the way some people in the organization make certain assumptions about how students will behave because they grew up in low-income neighborhoods.

Femi Alese ’13, who teaches elementary school students at the recently opened Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy, said he applied to TFA because he wanted to be a “positive role model” like some of the great teachers he had.

Alese said the outstanding training he has received at his placement site, which includes getting paired with a veteran teacher, has been one of the highlights of his experience so far.

But Alese had less praise for the TFA summer training institute, saying the “rigid” rubric mentoring teachers had to follow in evaluating new corps members “hindered the feedback I received.”

Anthony White ’13, former Undergraduate Council of Students president who is currently teaching second graders at Dean Petersen Elementary School in Las Vegas, said he decided to apply because TFA seemed like a synthesis of his interests in working in low-income neighborhoods and education advocacy. He ultimately decided to accept an offer to join because of “the amount of impact you can have in Teach for America,” he said.

“My students are definitely the best part of it. … They are extremely eager to learn,” White said. “They really look up to you, and they really want to achieve certain goals.”

Like Otah, White said the work is demanding. “If you’ve never done lesson planning  before, if you’ve never really studied the art and craft of teaching, it’s really hard to catch up” to peers who completed teaching programs, he said. “I find it really difficult that I have to almost work twice as hard to get to a level where I feel fully comfortable.”

Taro Shigenobu ’13, who is teaching at Henderson Collegiate in Henderson, N.C., wrote in an email to The Herald that her decision to join TFA arose from a passion “to fight educational inequity and to narrow the achievement gap” and to do meaningful work directly after graduating.

Summarizing the experience so far, Otah said, “Right now, I’m feeling tired, I’m feeling excited, I’m feeling humbled, I’m feeling enthused. I’m feeling just really, really blessed.”


-With reporting by Whiting Tennis


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