Preparedness for Teach for America Disputed

Eleanor Kaestner ’19, Staff Writer

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Dickinson College contributes a large number of graduates to the Teach for America (TFA) corps, but it is debated among educational professionals if students’ teaching inexperience affects their preparedness to work. 

Sarah Bair, the department chair and associate professor of educational studies at Dickinson said that, “We as a department don’t take a specific position on TFA because we just recognize that it’s a complex issue with pros and cons but that it does at least in short term fill a need.” She explained that, “A vast majority of students who do TFA do so with strong intentions to do good work and we applaud that, we just want them to be as prepared as possible.” 

“I think people need to go in with their eyes wide open, not just thinking about themselves, but first and foremost thinking about the community that they’ll be working in and recognizing that the whole thing should be approached with humility. Also, to understand that there is a lot that you don’t understand yet and you owe it to your students to learn as much as you possibly can before day one,” Bair added. 

Charlie Paige ’18, who was a psychology major at Dickinson and is currently at KIPP Collegiate High School in Nashville, Tenn. with TFA, did not feel prepared for the position. “I quickly shifted my goal of ‘being prepared’ to ‘being as prepared as possible.’” He explained that first-year teaching as a corps member whether you were an educational studies major or not, is more about learning and adapting in order to grow each day.

Moira Mahoney ’16 was an English major at Dickinson, who worked for two years at City Year, a non-profit education program, in Philadelphia being a tutor and mentor. “I decided to apply to Teach for America because I had already spent two years in education and I felt like I was finally ready to be a teacher on my own,” she said. Mahoney is currently a special education teacher at North High School in Denver, Colo. with TFA. 

Mckenzie Rambusch ’19, an educational studies major said, “Since being an educational studies major at Dickinson, the topic of TFA has come up many times. It is a great program and I have been reached out to personally by people who work there. However, there are a lot of schools who need teachers and while TFA is great, it is not as good as going to a school and getting your degree to teach there.” 

The TFA recruitment process is described as persistent. 

Jen Ailey ’19, an English major, received emails introducing her to the corps. “I originally thought [the emails] were automated messages. I later realized it was not automated and instead a real person,” she said. “They must have had a list of people that met certain requirements. For me, they mentioned my role as a tour guide and the leadership associated with that.” 

After she received many emails, Ailey agreed to meet with the TFA representative hoping to learn more about the program. In this meeting she was surprised that it was more of an interview than a casual information session. “Teach for America and Dickinson seem to be building a relationship where they transition recent graduates into the program,” Ailey perceived. 

The recruitment and interview process were described as intense. “The interview itself was around four hours and it was an online group interview,” Mahoney said. “I had to prepare a five-minute mini lesson and teach the other interviewees. It was a combination of group interview questions and individual questions that I needed to answer. It was definitely stressful but worthy experience.”

“It’s a good career move,” Paige said. “The recruitment office does a good job of appealing to candidates by explaining that, over just two years, you do honorable and important service work while also forwarding yourself professionally, whether you continue to teach or not.” 

Paige explained that while he was a teacher in the corps, he learned how to deal with failure. “Teach for America recruits highly-motivated, successful people who aren’t used to failure and as a result, don’t deal with it well,” he said. “Failure is every day because it’s not possible to be an effective teacher to 100% of your students on any given day. I’m still trying to deal with that fact by making the commitment to always improve, while also celebrating wins as they come.” 

Mahoney said that teaching has ups and downs, but “My students have gone through things that I can’t even imagine going through and in the end, I want to be a positive adult in their lives.”

TFA recruits a diverse network of leaders each year to teach in public schools impacted by educational inequity. The website states that their goal is to help give all children the equal opportunity to learn and grow. There have been 97 Dickinson alumni teach in the corps, with seven members from the recent class of 2018 according to an article on the Dickinson college website entitled “Dickinson College Among Top Contributors to Teach for America Corps”.

TFA representatives were not available for a quote. 

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