Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Next Generation of Leaders in Education | Teach For America

Today, the New York Times published an article on a trend we're seeing this year across the education field at large—a dip in interest in entering teaching. We addressed this trend in a recent piece for the Huffington Post—looking into some of the reasons behind it, and also the ways we're feeling that dip here at Teach For America.

While our partners' needs for corps members and alumni are at an all-time high, persuading young Americans to choose this work is tougher than ever. In the shadow of the recession, college graduates are moving away from public and service-oriented work and gravitating towards professions they perceive as more stable and financially sustainable. The polarized conversation around education isn't helping, either.

Overall, we're confident that the current dip we and others are seeing will pass. And while the decrease in interest we're seeing this season will be painful for our school partners and their students who are counting on us for 6,000 teachers, it's critical to keep the macro trend of the last 15 years in mind. Over that longer period, we've seen significantly more interest from our next generation of leaders in teaching in low-income communities, be it through TFA, TNTP, or other pathways.

We've seen this play out in our own numbers. In 2000, we had around 4,000 applications. Today, even though we're slightly behind where we were last year, we've had nearly 36,000 individuals apply with another five weeks before our application window closes. There's a reason this number isn't in the Times story. It's huge—larger than the number of individuals enrolled in all of California's education schools, combined. It is also double the number of applications we received during the strong economy in 2005-2007, and nearly 10 times the number we received in the 1999-2001 time period.

We select our teachers carefully, making sure to enlist folks with the greatest potential to make a meaningful impact for kids, given our particular training model and focus on low-income communities. Last year we admitted 14% of applicants—and, as Matt shared in the piece, we are keeping our same rigorous admission process this year and moving forward. The quality of our applicant pool is strong, with applicants from a diverse set of backgrounds, institutions, and professional sectors and the candidates we've accepted to date reflect the excellence our partners have come to expect from Teach For America. 

Whether they're in college or among the estimated 30% of the corps who will join after having other careers, pursuing graduate work, or serving in the military, we want prospective corps members to think deeply about whether the pathway we're offering is the right one for them—before they take that big step. We want them to have those hard conversations with themselves and with others, and our organization welcomes being part of those conversations where we can be helpful. What our corps members, alumni, and staff have repeatedly demonstrated is that our community wants to talk about their work—how it's hard, why they love it, and—while perhaps not intuitive—why it's anything but 'temporary.'

This fall, while our incoming corps might be smaller than last year's, we'll have more than 50,000 corps members and alumni working in more than 50 regions across the country. As the largest producer of public school teachers, we'll continue to provide an essential source of diverse talent for the fight for educational equity. Nearly 60% of our current corps identifies as people of color or themselves grew up economically disadvantaged, while others are using their privilege to take on this systemic challenge. And our alumni are in it for the long haul: 11,000 are still teaching and nearly two-thirds are working in the field of education. All told, more than 85% are working full-time to support kids in low-income communities. 

And at a national level, there are positive signs for our collective work. Hundreds of schools serving low-income communities are sending many more of their students to and through college and key indicators of student achievement are up nationally. And while without a doubt there is a long way to go for our students and communities to get the equal shot they deserve, committed, diverse talent is playing a big role in this progress, and will play a big role in the progress we can and will make going forward.

We're staying focused on these undeniable reasons for optimism while grappling with the reality of today's recruitment environment. The Times brought to light the ways in which this moment is challenging, but these moments are what have always caused us to innovate and get better. The needs of students, communities and our country demand that there be a thriving organization focused on attracting outstanding individuals of all backgrounds and experiences into education and supporting them in a lifetime of leadership. It's what we do to strengthen the core of our work, partner with others, and operate in new ways that will set us up to continue to meet this need in our next quarter-century.

If you or someone you know is ready to join this critical work, apply or refer now. 



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