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Teach for America ranks ND highly

Mel Flanagan | Thursday, September 13, 2012

For the fourth time in the past five years, Notre Dame ranked among the top colleges and universities contributing graduates to Teach for America’s newest class of teachers.

Teach for America (TFA), a nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates and professionals to teach in underserved neighborhoods and schools, issued a press release ranking the schools that sent the most graduates into the 2012 Teaching Corps according to three categories: large, medium and small schools.b Notre Dame ranked 12th among medium-sized schools after 27 members of the class of 2012 joined TFA’s ranks of teachers.

Gaby Barahona, TFA’s manager of regional communications, said some schools send more graduates to the program than others for a variety of reasons.

“It hinges on a few things, like how well TFA is known on campus or what the leaders on campus decide to do after their undergrad career,” she said. “I think it has to do with what our presence looks like. Do we have active recruiters on campus trying to engage the top leaders?”

Northwestern University, Harvard University and Georgetown University ranked in the top three spots respectively for medium schools, which are defined as those with between 3,000 and 9,999 undergraduates.

The high numbers of Notre Dame students who have entered the TFA Teaching Corps may assist future University applicants because it brings a greater familiarity with the organization to campus, Barahona said.

“You might have friends who have done it, and you know their experiences and have a stronger knowledge base of what TFA is and what they look for,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily give you an edge, but it helps inform the decision making and application.”

TFA attracts exemplary college graduates and professionals to apply each year, Barahona said, and the process is very competitive. This year, the program received over 48,000 applications and accepted 5,800 teachers, a 17 percent acceptance rate.

Brittany Scherer, class of 2012, was one of the lucky 17 percent to join the TFA 2012 Teaching Corps as a teacher of eighth grade reading and literature at Arlington High School in Indianapolis.

“I love it,” Scherer said of her teaching job. “I never thought I wanted to be a teacher, but I’ve been in school for about a month so far and I absolutely love it.”

Scherer said she decided to apply to the program after she participated in a Summer Service Learning Project involved with education.

“I saw the achievement gaps firsthand with eight-year-olds,” Scherer said. “If the problem was starting with eight-year-olds, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for 12th graders, so I knew I wanted to work with an organization that fights that gap.”

Many Notre Dame graduates choose to join TFA because of the value of service the University instills in its students, Scherer said.

“It’s one of the main reasons I knew I wanted to do something with my life in service to others,” she said. “I think a lot of students at Notre Dame realize how blessed they are to be there, and it makes you realize how important it is that you use this gift to serve others.”

For future TFA applicants, Scherer said the organization emphasizes the well-rounded individual, one who not only does well academically, but also has demonstrated extracurricular involvement and leadership qualities.

Barahona also said leadership is a crucial quality for a TFA application, as well as individuality and passion.

“What are the leadership qualities you bring to the table?”What have you done on campus to set yourself apart?” she said. “Going through those questions can help you figure out if you’re compatible for TFA.”