Elite-College Alumni Hatch Plan To Recruit Teachers

By Ann Bradley — January 17, 1990 4 min read

A group of recent graduates of prestigious private universities plans to tap into college students’ idealism and capitalize on their career indecision by recruiting candidates from 100 college campuses for teaching jobs.

As many as 500 prospective teachers will receive intensive training this summer at the University of Southern California before being hired by school districts experiencing teacher shortages.

The new program, called Teach For America, is the brainchild of Wendy Kopp, 22, a 1989 graduate of Princeton University.

Ms. Kopp modeled Teach For America after the federal Teacher Corps program, and wrote her senior thesis at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs on the topic.

“I hesitate to say it, because it sounds so lofty and superficial, but I really believe education is the key to everything,” Ms. Kopp said. “There is an enormous amount of idealism on college campuses.”

Ms. Kopp acknowledged that the program hopes to benefit from students’ uncertainty about their futures. Its requirement that participants agree to teach for two years is designed to be attractive to graduates considering several career options.

Many bright students are interested in teaching, she added, but they either do not know how to go about doing so, or are put off by confusing certification requirements.

“By the time you get to be a senior, and you’re looking for a job,” she explained, “it’s so hard to get into teaching compared to getting into investment banking or management consulting.”

Network of Recruiters

Teach For America’s 100 campus recruiters, all volunteer college students, met last month at Princeton University to organize their campaign. Through informational sessions, posters, and letters, the recruiters will spread the word about the program.

In addition, they plan to sponsor a “Teach For America Day” on Feb. 10 in which local 5th graders will be invited to each of the 100 campuses for a day of educational events.

So far, Ms. Kopp said, the response to the program has been positive. For example, the Yale University campus recruiter received 200 responses within five days after mailing a letter to students describing Teach For America.

“Corps members” will be screened on the basis of applications that include essays and interviews with recruiters.

Those selected for the program will undergo an intensive training program from June 17 through Aug. 11 at the University of Southern California. They will serve as student-teachers in several year-round schools in Los Angeles.

Teach For America plans to sign contracts with a total of eight urban and rural school districts to hire corps members. The districts must agree to pair the new teachers with mentor teachers and to place them in schools with at least one other corps member.

The program’s organizers acknowledge that teachers trained under the program will not have enough teacher-education courses to meet certification requirements in most states.

Instead, most will teach for the first year under “waivers” granted to districts with shortages of bilingual, math, science, foreign-language, and elementary-school teachers. And some may work in states with provisions for “alternate routes” to certification that allow teachers to become certified after beginning their jobs.

Although corps members will be required to teach for just two years, Ms. Kopp said she expects many will want to continue in the profession.

Support Network Planned

A key component of the program is the extensive support that will be made available to corps members. In addition to the mentor teachers, local Teach For America offices will coordinate support groups, symposia, social events, and a newsletter, among other activities.

To date, Teach For America has raised $500,000 from corporations and foundations, including American Cyanamid Corporation, Apple Computer Inc., and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.

Ms. Kopp said she intends to raise $3 million to sustain the program.

“I think in part [potential donors] might be somewhat taken aback by the fact that I have just graduated and think that I’m going to create this program,” she said. “I’m probably in a very good position to do that, because I know where college students are coming from.”

The program’s current staff members, who are assisted by a board of directors and board of advisers, include recent graduates of Brown, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, and Harvard universities.

James A. Kelly, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and an adviser to Teach For America, said he believes Ms. Kopp has “identified an important piece of the puzzle of how to improve teaching.”

“Her niche is to recruit into teaching a higher proportion of graduates from outstanding undergraduate liberal-arts programs,” he noted. “I’m in favor of that goal.”

More information on the program is available by writing: Teach For America, P.O. Box 5114, New York City, N.Y. 10185.

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 1990 edition of Education Week as Elite-College Alumni Hatch Plan To Recruit Teachers