Teach for America participation drops

by Annie Ma | 10/29/14 6:44pm

The number of Dartmouth graduates joining Teach for America fell from 33 in 2013 to 21 in 2014, dropping the College from 8th to 12th place in the organization’s highest contributing medium-sized schools. This changes comes as the program seeks to broaden the pool of universities it draws from.

Until this year, the College largely saw an increase in the number of graduating seniors joining the organization. Dartmouth contributed 20 individuals to the Corps in 2010, 29 in 2011, 37 in 2012 and 33 in 2013.

Monica Wilson, the Center for Professional Development’s senior associate director, said Teach for America has consistently maintained a large presence at Dartmouth during the corporate recruiting season. The organization works to generate interest within the student body through the employer connections fair and campus liaison coordinators who connect with interested students on a more personal level.

“I don’t think there’s a lack of interest by any means,” Teach for America recruiter Daniel Johnson said. “There were a tremendous number of applicants that year. The fact that Dartmouth remains one of the top contributors shows there’s a tremendous passion for the work that TFA is engaged in in ending educational inequity.”

Johnson, who works directly with the Dartmouth campus, pointed out broader changes in the organization’s recruitment process that may have influenced the composition of the 2014 Corps.

“One thing that has changed about Teach for America is that we’re really trying to cast a wide net in terms of where we’re recruiting,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to make sure all campuses are represented equally in our recruitment, and that we’re pulling committed individuals from schools that we may not necessarily have been working at in the past.”

Howard University, a historically black college, was the top contributor among medium-sized schools in 2014, with 40 students joining. In 2013, it was not represented in the top five rankings.

As Teach for America continues to refine its recruitment process, Johnson said it will focus more on factors that can lead to classroom success. Corps members who have greater success in the classroom can connect to their students and comfortably establish themselves in the classroom. In addition to looking at academic achievement, Johnson said recruiters are seeking students with leadership experience that demonstrates ability to command a class.

Johnson emphasized the need for teachers from a range of backgrounds and experiences in order to further narrow the achievement gap in American education.

“In our education system, diversity is something that is really lacking,” he said. “The more diversity we have in our nation’s public education system, the more beneficial that will be to our students.”

The lack of diversity in education self-perpetuates, he said, explaining that the achievement gap among students results in a lack of diversity among teachers, inhibiting future generations.

Anastassia Radeva ’12, a member of the 2012 Corps, acknowledged a criticism often levied at Teach for America, that its recruiting practices are not tailored to the realities of the classroom. She emphasized, however, that Corps members have the skills and qualities to adjust under pressure to students’ needs.

Radeva said that the experience of working through Dartmouth’s quick quarters prepared her to adjust.

“There’s a lot of critique about Teach for America recruitment on Ivy League campuses, that you can’t just take really smart kids with barely any training and throw them into low-income areas,” Radeva said. “There’s definitely an equity issue there, but there’s a need for people who are ready to try everything they can.”

Zachary Ramirez-Brunner ’12, also a member of the 2012 Corps, said he was not prepared for how challenging the first year in the classroom would be. Although he found recruiters on campus supportive and informative, he did not have any clear expectations for his experience in the classroom.

“To be frank, my experience my first year was really difficult,” Ramirez-Brunner said. “I was a brand new teacher at a brand new charter school with a brand new design. I was pretty serious about quitting after a few months, which is a really big issue within the organization, but I didn’t and I am extremely happy I came around.”

The first-year learning curve was steep, but prepared him for the second year, he said, to the extent that he elected to stay on for a third. Radeva also chose to stay with Teach for America for a third year.

In the 2014 rankings, all other Ivy schools in the medium-sized category also saw a decrease. Harvard University fell from first to fourth place, and Columbia University dropped from its spot tied for sixth to eighth. Yale University and Princeton University, which tied for 12th in 2013, fell to tied for 15th and 18th, respectively. Brown University dropped from its spot tied for 10th to tied for 18th.