Teach for America sees increase in applicants

Joey Parr, a senior double majoring in radio-TV-film and political science, is in no rush to enter the workforce after his graduation in May. Parr said that through Teach for America he will instead teach elementary school students in the school with the second lowest performance in Louisiana.

“I’m doing Teach for America because it’s primarily about other people,” Parr said. “I want to help give passion and ambition to these students before I enter the workforce, and everything becomes mostly about me and my income.”

A slow economy has prompted more students to explore the opportunities that are guaranteed by the Teach for America program, an organization official said.

Teach for America is a program for recent college graduates to teach students in the nation’s neediest school districts.

Tamara Urquhart, Teach for America recruitment director for North Texas and Oklahoma, said the number of students at the university who have joined Teach for America has increased since last year. She said that last year 10 graduating seniors joined, and that this year 12 have already been accepted to the program and nine more are waiting for final decisions.

Beatriz Gutierrez, a senior communications major who applied to the program, said Teach for America is a good option for her because of the job security it provides as well as the opportunity to help those in need.

“Teach for America is my first option, not an alternative to starting my career,” Gutierrez said. “Teach for America is unique in that it provides a guaranteed job for two years, which I think is difficult to find for a recent graduate right now.”

Erin Waltz, recruitment associate for Teach for America, said the organization has received more than 35,000 applications this year, the highest number on record and a 42 percent increase over last year.

Waltz said the graduates attend a five-week training session during the summer to prepare them for the real-world teaching experience.

Students who are accepted into the program are paid the starting salary for teachers depending on their location, she said. On top of their base pay, the students are provided a $4,700 yearly stipend as well as grants and loans to help them transition into their new lives and locations.

Waltz said uncertain economic times are increasing interest at universities.

According to the Teach for America Web site, the University of Texas at Austin has the fifth most graduates that enter the program coming from universities with over 10,000 students.

“A lot of students really want to give back and do something instead of jumping straight into an uncertain job market,” Waltz said.

Gutierrez said the program will help secure her future because the experience is a great addition to her resume.

Abby West, a senior theater production major who has worked for two years as a Teach for America campus representative, said part of her job is giving presentations to student organizations and classroom audiences about the program. West said working as a campus representative sparked her interest and led to her joining the program.

She has been assigned to teach middle school English in Houston, she said.

“I have been interested in Teach for America for over a year now,” she said. “But the economy makes opportunities like Teach for America more attractive.”

Waltz said Teach for America also helps students in the job market beyond their two-year commitment.

“Teach for America has partnerships with many graduate schools and employers,” Waltz said. “Graduate schools offer two-year deferrals for students that participate and employers are always looking out for Teach for America alumni because of the skills gained throughout the program.”