After reading Wendy Kopp ’89’s book “One Day, All Children...” during her freshman year, Laura Fletcher ’10 did what most readers wouldn’t: She e-mailed the Teach For America (TFA) founder and asked how she could get involved.
Since her freshman year, Fletcher has been involved with TFA through summer internships. Now a campus coordinator, she is one of three seniors recruiting her classmates to apply for the program, which works to ensure quality education for low-income students throughout the country by placing recent college graduates in rural and urban schools.
Last Friday, Fletcher submitted her own application to teach for the program following graduation, meeting the first of several deadlines in the intensive application process. Prospective teachers must complete a written application, a phone interview and an in-person interview in which applicants are expected to present a demo lesson.
Applicants like Fletcher are part of what appears to be a large surge in applications for the early deadline at Princeton and across the country, said Victor Wakefield ’07, a recruitment director at Princeton and Duke who completed his two-year teaching commitment this spring in Gary, Ind. He added, though, that he did not have official numbers yet.
“We’re optimistic about the way things are looking around this country. There’s a lot of energy and momentum for Teach For America this year,” Wakefield said. “Early indicators are promising, with the [first] deadline being just last Friday.”
Last fall, 173 members of the Class of 2009 applied to TFA, and of those, 29 were accepted into the program — a 16.7 percent acceptance rate. That’s higher than the national average since roughly 4,100 — or 11.7 percent — of the 35,178 individuals who applied were accepted into the program.
Wakefield said he expects the 15 to 20 percent acceptance rate at Princeton to remain constant, considering the increase in the applicant pool and TFA’s plans to expand the number of regions and teachers represented.
Wakefield noted that he believes the growing interest in TFA can largely be attributed to a shift in the national mood, in addition to the difficult job market and other economic factors.
While some students are not considering options like TFA in their post-graduation plans because they fear for job security, he said, others who might not have been interested are more open to the idea now.
“From my observations at Princeton and Duke, I think that in some cases people are keeping their ears open a little bit,” he said. “What we’ve seen more of is that, as a nation, there is a new investment in service, from grassroots efforts to the messaging of our commander-in-chief to reinvest in social justice and service work.”
Fletcher said that students she spoke to seemed deterred by the concern that they would lose out on graduate school and jobs at financial firms. Yet she said she believes the opposite is the case.
“TFA has tons and tons of connections with graduate schools, and you can do both the academic and service part of it,” she said. “And there’s a huge number of students that stay in the education sector, and they have major connections with law schools, medical schools and consulting firms.”
“Your career prospects are enhanced by being a core member,” she added.
Fletcher noted that, though many TFA teachers go on to work in different fields following the program, they remain committed to education.
“There’s some backlash against the organization because [detractors] say, ‘Oh, you’re only going to teach for two years. You’re not really interested in education,’ but people who think that really have not spoken to core members,” she explained. “Those two years are not an experience you forget. No matter what sector people go into, public education is not something that leaves their mind afterward.”