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Teach for amateurs

Brad Blomstrom | Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Now that TCE’s are online, our semester is depressingly devoid of wasted time in the classroom. Lest your spirits sink and you resign yourself to the fate of taking notes, take hope instead – Teach for America Season has finally arrived. Freshmen: I know you have no idea what I’m talking about right now, but be patient – the enthusiastic speeches and e-mails from Notre Dame’s enthusiastic Teachers-for-America-to-be will come in a few short years. Let us all be thankful for the student presentations that cut out five minutes of teaching time and save us from the disdain of the professor when we walk in mid-lecture holding a latte from Starbucks. Just like the gorgeous weather that arrived this past weekend and is destined to head south faster than the men’s basketball team, we should appreciate TFA Season while we can.

Happily, this morning I was able to enjoy my coffee and a few more lines in the newspaper thanks to a wonderful student presentation. For anyone who was also late to class and wants to help fix our nation’s education system, here is a list of reasons to Teach for America that I’ve cobbled together over the years:

Teach for a Low Acceptance Rate:

Did you know that only half of children growing up in poverty will graduate from high school, and that those who do will read at an eighth grade level? A sobering fact, especially when you consider that, as Notre Dame students, we are part of the mere 56 percent of high school graduates who are able to attend college.

With regard to Teach for America’s mission, however, the most important statistic is 14.8 percent. That’s the percentage of applicants that enrolled in the program in 2008. Never mind that the program regularly rejects qualified applicants that would help alleviate the inherent inequities in our education system; TFA prides itself on its aura of exclusivity. Its recruiters will push anyone and everyone they can find to apply, even if they foresee an obvious rejection. Take my case, for example.

Last year I received an e-mail from a TFA recruiter asking me to get coffee and learn about the program. A nice gesture, but at that point I was intent on selling my soul to a corporate overlord upon graduation. I politely declined. His response? “Great! Let’s meet up next week. When are you free?” I again declined, only to receive another invitation to coffee. At this point I felt like Peter from Office Space during his meeting with “The Bobs.” The TFA recruiter’s desire for me to apply only increased as he became more aware that I was the exact wrong person for the job. A curious tactic, but one that undoubtedly helps produce that impressive 14.8 percent. For a better idea of TFA’s priorities, here are a few more statistics:

$6,389. That was the cost to recruit, interview, and hire each of the 2,892 TFA enrollees in 2007. That’s a lot of coffee.

$5,689. That was the cost to train each of those enrollees in 2007, a figure 11 percent less than the cost to recruit them. Five weeks is all the teacher training you need, evidently.

Teach for a Backup Plan to Employment or Grad School:

All you need to know: full salary and benefits. Parents off your back. Real life: delayed for a few years. I know what questions are running through your head right now. No. 1: “Why does this guy hate kids?” No. 2: “Don’t people that do TFA want to be teachers? This is their real life.” While the answer to question one is too long to explain, the answer to question No. 2 is the last, and most important, reason to Teach for America:

Teach for a Line Item on Your Résumé:

As an aspiring corporate underling, I understand that every field needs its “proving ground” where entry level employees earn their stripes. Doctors have their residency, lawyers their time as a junior associate, and bankers their time as an analyst. For those of you who want policy jobs down the line, here’s your chance. TFA doesn’t want teachers. They want people who need a few years of teaching experience to be successful in the telling-teachers-how-to-teach field. It’s no coincidence that BusinessWeek named them one of the best places to launch a career or that in their 2007 annual report they were proud to have “laid the groundwork for a more robust pipeline to political leadership going forward.”

A two-year stint hurts our schools and hurts our students. It took me three years at Notre Dame to figure out how to correctly order stir fry at the dining hall. To think that I could become comfortable enough with developmental psychology and the teaching profession’s best practices after just five weeks of training is akin to me thinking I could win the Father of the Year Award after a few heart-to-hearts with Flavor Flav.

Last round applications are due February 13th. Let’s teach for actually trying to right “our nation’s greatest injustice” instead of using our schools as a career launching pad.

Brad Blomstrom is a senior

majoring in finance and economics. No, he doesn’t have any hot stock tips for you, but he does welcome your views on education policy and the 2009 San Diego Padres. He can be contacted at bblomstr@nd.edu

The views expressed in this

column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.