This year Allegheny College ranked in the top 20 contributors to the Teach for America Program, among schools of the same size. According to Sarah Hernandez, a recruitment manager for Teach for America who works with Allegheny College, Allegheny contributed one student to the program in 2013. This year they have ten.
Susan Slote, English professor and advisor to the Pre-Education Club, talked about Teach for America in high regards, emphasizing the goals the program pursues. Slote made it clear that she never encourages her student to pursue one path over another, but stated that Allegheny students just seem to be drawn to the program given their strong sense of community service.
“Teach for America is a logical connection for Allegheny Students,” Slote said.
She also noted that the number of participants in the program has been going up every year for the last ten years.
Jessica Stickel, ’15, explains her desire to inspire children who live without a role model and to show them that someone cares and will believe in them.
“I want to make a difference in as many students’ lives as possible,” she said.
The Teach for America program has been placing young teachers in schools with at-risk students since 1989. Teachers are often recruited directly out of college to serve two years in rural and urban school districts across the country. Many of these communities are below the poverty line.
Stickel explained that her desire to participate arose in part due to her experiences working in Meadville and the education inequality that she observed there.
Stickel is currently in the process of applying to the program and like many who do she is eager to begin a teaching a career.
“I want to teach, and I want to teach now,” she said.
The application process, as Hernandez noted, is a fairly rigorous one.
Hernandez explained that the process is broken up into three distinctive steps. The first is the initial application which includes a series of short response questions and the submission of a résumé. Those who advance to the next step receive a phone interview and a chance to elaborate on their responses to the questions. The final step is an in-person interview and a sample lesson to teach.
Once accepted, participants are assigned to one of more than fifty regions throughout the United States. Hernandez explains that you are given a chance to voice your preferences but getting your first choice is far from a guarantee.
Hernandez explained that the qualities that are looked for by the program are very broad. She said that one of the overriding concerns is finding prospective teachers who want to make a difference in the issue of education inequality. Hernandez explained they want teachers who are aware of the issues in education and are passionate about it.
The other qualities that Hernandez stressed as important for prospective teachers included individuals who had shown leadership. This could be in student government or working multiple jobs while attending school. Candidates should also possess a belief in a child’s ability to succeed she said.
The challenge of the program and the opportunity to truly make a difference may draw many to the program, but there are other incentives as well.
Hernandez explained that in addition to their wages, ranging from $24,000 to $51,000 a year according to the Teach for America website, teachers also receive other benefits and opportunities. These include special loan rates, waived fees from graduate schools and, through a partnership with AmeriCorps, an opportunity for educational grants.
The challenge is not something to be taken lightly, though. Hernandez is grateful for her opportunity and also stressed the hard work that went into the job.
“It’s the best thing I have ever done and the hardest thing I have ever done,” she said.
Hernandez related how when she first arrived at her assigned school in Ohio that none of her students had ever received a formal education in writing. She also realized that many of her students were only getting two meals a day, the two that the school provided.
“I began to see how complicated the issue was,” said Hernandez.
Coming into the school year, only 18 percent of her class passed the diagnostic test that they would need to pass in order to graduate. But with Hernandez’s help, just a year later, 95 percent made the grade.
Stickel, despite being in only the early stages of her application to Teach for America, will receive a decision by Oct. 30.