John Carter is one of the lucky ones. Weeks before graduating from the College of Wooster, he has a full-time teaching job lined up for the next two years.
He was recruited by Teach For America, a New York not-for-profit that solicits students and professionals to work in low-income districts and charter schools.
Teaching grade school in New York City will give Carter, 21, some work experience, a paycheck and a chance to help change the world.
Teach For America speaks to “this really intense desire among college seniors to do something really impactful,” spokeswoman Rebecca Neale said.
Supporters of Teach For America say the service organization provides a valuable pipeline of new teachers, especially minorities. Critics say TFA teachers have a high turnover rate and are inexperienced, save for a five-week summer institute they are required to attend before their first year.
Still, TFA is especially popular at private colleges, like Wooster, that produce large quantities of students with such liberal arts majors as history, philosophy and sociology.
Last year, Teach For America was the largest employer for new graduates at the college. Ditto at Dennison, Oberlin and Kenyon, Neale said.
“They put them through their paces,” said Lisa Kastor, director of career services at the College of Wooster. “They are highly selective. They look at your ability to understand poverty issues. They want five or six references, a series of interviews, a teaching presentation.”
The average grade-point average for successful applicants last year was 3.6; two-thirds belonged to academic honor societies.
Perhaps fueled by the sour economy, a record number of students have been applying to Teach For America. This year, more than 48,000 — double the number from five years ago — applied for an as-yet-undetermined number of openings.
TFA placed 5,100 teachers nationwide last year. They were employed by and paid by the school districts.
Compensation packages vary with the employer but range from $30,000 to $51,000. Teach For America ensures the new teachers get a provisional teaching license and a $10,700 education award over two years to pay back college loans.
Still, at least one College of Wooster student expects her next two years to be grueling.
Hannah Haas has been told that, “the first year is really, really hard. You barely get any sleep, the kids are awful and you want to quit. But in the second year, you’ve gotten in the groove.”
Haas, a political science major from Erie, Pa., will be assigned to a grade school in Philadelphia next fall, but she doesn’t know where or what grade she will be teaching.
“It’s a huge adventure,” she said.
For Carter, all roads led to Teach For America, it seemed.
His experience as a Big Brother and campus peer mentor, coupled with a burgeoning interest in education thanks to a sociology class, led him to apply to TFA last fall.
“I didn’t have the time to get an education degree, no way, in order to graduate on time,” he said.
Part of the challenge has been to persuade his parents in the Pittsburgh area that Teach For America was a good option, particularly as he was assigned to an urban school in New York City.
“My parents were concerned about finances and living in the city,” he said.
He decided to share an apartment with another Wooster grad who’s TFA-bound and will have those nice, tidy paychecks coming in.
“If I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t have anything,” Carter said he reminded his parents.
They now are “on board,” he said.
Teach For America will expand into Ohio this fall. It will have about 40 teachers in the northeast part of the state and 30 in southwestern districts.
For information, go to www.teachforamerica.org.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.