What is it about teaching these days that has so many college graduates knocking on the doors of Teach for America? There are several reports today about a spectacular surge in new teachers who are headed for the classroom this fall—via Teach for America. For folks who don't know, TFA is a program that recruits top college graduates and trains them to become teachers in underserved communities.
The program, which has been around since 1990, is sending 3,700 new teachers into hard-to-staff schools this year, up from 2,900 a year ago. But guess how many applicants to the program didn't make the cut? A lot: This year, the program received 24,700 applications.
Knowing that so many recent grads are eager to teach and that only the best and the brightest will be marching into classrooms this fall warms my heart. But the skeptical reporter in me can't help but wonder what other forces are at play here. Last I checked, teachers are still complaining about low pay. (Earlier this week, I blogged about a cash-strapped teacher who wrote a book for other cash-strapped teachers.) Teachers also complain about working conditions. (Mention No Child Left Behind, and you're bound to get an earful from most teachers.)
Assuming these college grads have done their homework and know what they're getting themselves into, why are so many filling out the TFA application? Media reports say the program has really upped its presence on college campuses and is hiring more college grads than any other employer.
Another theory floating around has to do with the crummy U.S. economy. It may be forcing a lot of recent college grads to forgo their plans to travel the world for a "stable" job—at least until the times get better. I don't buy this theory either. Why not go, instead, to Bolivia or Vietnam, where the dollar is still king? Why not get a higher-paying job in marketing or consulting? (I know nothing about these jobs. I just assume they pay better.)
For now, I am content to think that Teach for America is attracting graduates who are eager to make a difference—no matter how challenging the job or low the salary. But this explanation alone isn't satisfying. I want to open up the floor for other theories. If you're a college student and you're considering Teach for America or another avenue into teaching, I want to know why.