The University was recently ranked fourth among small colleges sending alumni to Teach for America (TFA), according to a report released by the organization. This year, 19 alumni from the class of 2014 are participating in the corps. Last year, the University was ranked 17th among small schools sending alumni to the corps. This jump in participation comes on the heels of rising backlash against the organization, with some—including TFA alumni—claiming that the organization is no longer an effective means of bettering education.
This year, Wesleyan ranked ahead of other liberal arts schools such as Williams College and Pomona College. Among all schools, the University of Michigan ranked highest in terms of the number of students sent, with 73 alumni from last year. UC Berkeley and UCLA fall close behind, with respective TFA graduates at 71 and 70.
Alexandra Rallis, who works as a TFA recruitment officer at Wesleyan, believes that Wes graduates’ continual participation in TFA and similar programs can be attributed to its culture of fighting for social justice and community service.
“Wesleyan students have done so much thinking and acting to challenge structures already,” Rallis said. “The environment of social justice and critical thinking at the school is so aligned with the work of educators, because educators are inherently activists.”
Margo Tercek ’13 is currently in her second year working for TFA in Mississippi.Tercek feels that her time in the corps has helped her recognize the privilege she has experienced in the past.
“I think it’s hard because we don’t have any education classes at our school, so most of us are pretty inexperienced in education,” Tercek said. “I was more challenged teaching in high-stress situations than I was academically at Wesleyan. While I gained critical thinking skills that have helped me solve problems, I only realized how undiverse Wesleyan is when I came.”
Teach for America’s missions include expanding educational opportunity for children in impoverished communities and solving educational inequity.
Erin Morimoto also works for the recruitment team at the University and was previously a corps member in Hawaii. Morimoto said that participating in the corps helps alumni gain a greater understanding of the education system.
“The corps teaches a sense of responsibility,” Morimoto said. “The level of impact is daunting; you are in charge of 125 seventh graders, but it is an amazing experience. I learned that so many people are working toward educational equity, because the current systems of education are not supporting our students enough.”
In a Teach for America press release, Elisa Villanueva Beard, co-Chief Executive Officer of Teach for America, described this year’s team as the most diverse corps yet. Half of corps members identify as people of color. 22 percent identify as African American, 13 percent identify as Latin American, 6 percent identify as Asian or Pacific Islander, and 6 percent identify as multi-racial. One third of members are first-generation college students. 47 percent received Pell Grants, which provide need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students.
Rallis spoke to the benefit of having a socially, economically, and racially diverse corps.
“I am 100% convinced of one thing,” Rallis said. “This organization needs to be ethnically and socioeconomically representative of the communities it represents. There is potential for profound impact when a student can see and identify a part of themselves with the teacher standing in front of them.
Tercek stated that joining the corps requires full commitment to the job.
“One thing that makes the TFA have a bad rap is the assumption that it is resumé padding for Ivy League [students],” Tercek said. “But I would not recommend it to anyone doing it for the experience itself; it’s for people who want to commit two years of their lives working in impossibly difficult situations for the children.”
This year, 10,600 corps members will be teaching in high-need classrooms in 50 regions, with 5,300 incoming corps members coming from 49 states and the District of Columbia. The new members represent over 850 colleges and universities.
A network of 37,000 Teach for America alumni continue to work towards educational equity. 86 percent work as full-time educators or in low-income communities.
“For those considering joining the corps, the question is: are you ready to enter a classroom as a teacher, regardless of being a part of Teach for America?” Rallis said. “You have to do everything in my power for my kids, and the work is very hard; people have a sense of not doing enough. But there are beautiful moments of connectivity with the school community, which becomes like a family.”