“Visualize yourself in a room of 33 students who are excited, mad, sad, emotional, sleeping, brilliant, and incredible.”
This is how Maria Schneider, CAS/BA ’13, describes her experience with Teach For America (TFA). She has been teaching high school Spanish in New Orleans since May and says it is challenging and rewarding work.
“As a teacher your job is to engage every single one of them, teach them, set them up for success, and build relationships with them,” she says.
When she received her offer from TFA in January, Schneider wasn’t sure if she wanted to make the two-year commitment, but remembering her own high school experience helped her decide.
“I thought there were definitely things I could bring to my classroom and to my school that would be beneficial to the kids I work with,” she says. “My decision was about the direct impact I could have on students.”
Schneider was not alone in her decision—24 other AU students and four AU alumni also began partnerships with TFA this summer, confirming American University’s status as a committed producer of corps participants.
AU is consistently recognized as a “top contributor” for medium-sized schools, with more than 20 graduates entering the corps annually, according to TFA recruitment marketing manager Adam Rupe, CAS/MAT ’10. In 2012, 26 out of 27 graduating students accepted offers, and 25 out of 35 graduating students accepted offers in 2013. AU’s offer rate of about 40 percent is far higher than the national average of 14 percent.
According to TFA recruiter Tom Milteer, AU students’ passion and social awareness make them good candidates.
“They [AU students] are committed to personal excellence, and have sought out and taken advantage of opportunities to get involved in the community,” he says. “At the same time, many are very much aware of the disparities that exist in D.C. and how the area kids are born into affects the kind of education they receive.”
TFA participants are also encouraged to continue their own education while promoting change. AU remains one of the only schools in the country to offer a dual-degree program for second-year TFA participants working toward master’s degrees, says Danielle Sodani, director of project development and community outreach for the School of Education, Teaching & Health (SETH). TFA corps members, alumni, and staff can choose from degrees in SETH or dual degrees between SETH and the School of Public Affairs or Kogod School of Business, she says.
Joshua Johnson, a current TFA participant teaching science in Washington, D.C., is completing his master’s degree in teaching through SETH. He brings his middle school classes to visit AU as part of a program encouraging students to aim for college.
“He’s the best and only science teacher I’ve ever met,” says Edwin Martinez, an eighth grader who’s been in science classes with Johnson since sixth grade. “I used to be shy, but his class is always interesting, and I always had questions, so I started talking in class. Now he knows me more than any other teacher.”
“He respects us and we respect him back,” says Bazin Sineshaw, a seventh grader in Johnson’s class. “There’s no excuse for not finishing your homework because he’s always there after school to help if you have questions.”
Rupe, who joined TFA after graduating from AU in 2010, says this is the kind of dedicated teacher necessary to improve the education system, a goal that lies at the heart of TFA’s mission.
“TFA is really about leadership,” he says. “Education is a development issue across the world. Education can change society.”
Although that kind of responsibility can seem overwhelming, Schneider says her experience at AU gave her the confidence she needed.
“The whole challenge of two years, being on your own, doing something you’ve never done—AU students are not just going to take the easy way out,” she says. “If you want to challenge yourself, are passionate about social justice issues, and can adapt to new situations, definitely apply.”
The next Teach for America application deadline is January 24. Visit the Teach for America website to learn more about the application process and eligibility requirements.