Teach for America a difficult, uplifting opportunity

As graduation approaches many senior students are left with the startling realization that they are about to enter the real world. Many are afraid or unsure what lies ahead while others already have a job lined up. A select few however, join a program known as Teach for America, which allows college graduates the chance to work in urban and rural schools for two years in low-income communities across the United States.

The Teach for America program recruits from across the nation through a competitive application process and places selected applicants in various metropolitan and rural schools that span from Los Angeles to the Mississippi Delta to New York City, totaling 35 regions, according to the program’s website. The program looks to recruit students from all majors, backgrounds and career aspirations that show integrity and strong leadership ability. The recent graduates can work in elementary, middle or high school and usually receive placement for their preferred location and grade level.

Many TCU students have applied and been accepted into the program including recent graduate and former student body president Kelsie Johnson. Johnson said she first learned about the program when her older cousin applied and was accepted. Her curiosity grew when older friends at TCU also earned acceptance.

After submitting a written application and resume, a phone interview, and a day-long interview including a teaching simulation, Teach For America selected Johnson. After a five-week training period in the summer, Johnson is now well into her fourth month of teaching.

“As any teacher will agree, no two days are alike,” Johnson said. “I wish I could give you a better look into this lifestyle. I can, however, tell you that some things are always the same. I always wake up at 5:15 a.m. to get to school by 6:30 a.m. I almost always stay at school for 12 hours. If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But the kids are worth it, I promise.”

The job has its highs and lows and is very demanding of its young teachers, but Johnson said the experience is unlike any other and has forever changed her as a person.

“Teach for America is by far the most challenging thing I have done in my life,” she said. “I see chilling poverty levels every day. I have to sleep with the fact that if I don’t do my job well, I’m not getting a “C” or bombing a presentation, like in college. Instead, a kid might not learn how to read. My performance is not just mine anymore. My performance affects my 25 students every minute of every day.”

Teach for America has been active on TCU’s campus in months past and recruits a handful of students each semester. Many students have had their curiosity piqued by the recruiting information, including junior strategic communication major Stephanie Becker.

While only a junior and still a year away from applying, Becker said she wants to learn more about Teach for America in case she decides to apply after graduation.

“I think Teach for America is an amazing opportunity and takes a lot of courage and determination,” Becker said. “Obviously I’m not old enough at this point, but it is definitely something I am interested in and looking into, because I feel like I’m someone who really wants to help people. I can see how impacting the opportunity would be because you really are making a difference for kids who need it,”

Teach for America is a demanding position that requires thoughtful consideration before applying. Many of those who are selected face tough challenges during the beginning of their terms. William Haake, a senior communication studies major, is graduating Dec. 18 and had heard about Teach for America but never strongly considered applying for the opportunity, despite being undecided about his plans after graduation.

I think Teach for America is a very noble cause and those who go through with it deserve a lot of merit,” Haake said. “It just wasn’t something I saw myself doing after I graduated. I imagine it is a huge commitment and if you aren’t dedicated then you’ll be knee-deep in regret later.”

Despite the hard work and long hours, Johnson said Teach for America has been one of her most life changing experiences. With that said, she said applicants must be realistic rather than idealistic when considering the program.

“If you’re not ready to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and see extreme poverty like you’ve never seen before, Teach for America might not be for you,” Johnson said. “Teach for America believes that by giving kids a high quality education, you have the ability to change their life path. I believe that, too. I believe education is the key to bringing people out of poverty.”