On Monday, two alumni from Teach for America (TFA) came to Colgate to recruit students to serve a two-year commitment to teach after graduation. Will Robinson ’01 and Edna Novak, a graduate of Wellesley College delivered the program’s message: “Join the movement to eliminate social inequality.” About 50 Colgate students, mostly seniors, came to the meeting, which described the program’s goals and requirements.
Novak and Robinson shared personal stories explaining their triumphs in reaching out to students who never had the specific help they needed to be successful in school
TFA seeks top graduates from universities around the country who want to dedicate their time in urban and rural public schools that are economically disadvantaged. Hired students are paid and given full-time positions.
The typical TFA teacher has a GPA of at least 3.5 and has demonstrated great leadership skills during his college career. The application process is competitive: last year only 15 percent of applicants were accepted.
“[They] set the bar pretty high,” Novak said. Often positions are left vacant because the job is so demanding and only the strongest candidates are accepted.
Future employers know this and hire TFA alumni because of the immense leadership skills the experience imparts on them. The integration of TFA alumni is also part of the organization’s goal: to put people into higher positions of power who have first-hand knowledge of the economic conditions of America’s poor.
By the age of nine, students from economically disadvantaged schools are, on average, three grades behind their counterparts in private or economically well-off schools. In addition, students in such districts are seven times less likely to go to college.
Novak, who taught third-grade and seventh grade math in New Orleans, met students who were scared they would not pass the fourth grade.
“My kids were eight to eleven years old in third grade, meaning that some of them had passed every year and some of them had failed every year,” she said. “Little by little I found ways to reach most of my students. I started before school and after school programs, I was there tutoring at seven o’clock in the morning, I was there tutoring at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.” Most teachers are also asked to coach sports, and many think of even more ways to use their time.
Robinson, who also taught in New Orleans, saved one of his students from expulsion by keeping her by his side.
“She would be there eating lunch with me in the faculty room, while her peers were out at recess,” he said.
His story and his student’s ended happily; his fondest memory was that of presenting him with a painting she made, and calling him up to say that he had made it to high school.