Teach for America

Whitman College has been named one of the top-20 small colleges and universities to contribute graduating seniors to Teach For America (TFA) for 2010. With 10 of its recent graduates accepted to the program, Whitman ranks 13th in its category of institutions.

TFA is a national corps of recent college graduates and professionals who commit to teaching for two years at underserved public schools in low-income urban and rural areas. The organization recruits graduates from all academic majors who have demonstrated outstanding achievement, perseverance and leadership.

“Whitman has a reputation for strong academics, and many of our students also assume leadership roles while in college,” said Susan Buchanan, director of Whitman’s Student Engagement Center which helps students through the TFA application process. “The college also embraces diversity among its students, and TFA appreciates candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences.”

Of 46,000 applicants nationally, just 4,500 members were accepted to TFA’s 2010 corps of teachers. Nearly 10 percent of Whitman’s 2010 senior class applied for positions in the incoming corps. Buchanan said interest in TFA is generally among the highest of all such experiential programs for which Whitman student apply.

“TFA attracts students who want to make a difference, and Whitman students tend to be people who want to change the world—either socially, environmentally or in other meaningful ways,” Buchanan said.

Alumnus Nathan Fitzpatrick ’06, who is now a Seattle-based manager for nonprofit alliances for TFA, coordinated the organization’s recruitment efforts at Whitman last year. Having served as a 2006-2008 corps member teaching choir and music education to students in the Mississippi Delta, Fitzpatrick is honored to see so many fellow alumni following in his footsteps.

“It felt fantastic to be back on campus,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was so impressed with how little things had changed in terms of Whitman’s amazing caliber of students.”

Fitzpatrick said TFA looks for seven key qualities in incoming teachers, most notably a demonstrated aptitude for leadership. But above all, he said the common theme among new corps members is a spirit of activism. “We want people who believe that all children deserve an equal education; we want people who are willing to work hard for social justice.”

Following a summer of intensive training, this fall the Whitman group will assume teaching posts in public schools from Arizona to Pennsylvania. They will receive the same salary and health benefits as other beginning teachers in their respective areas, provided directly from the school districts for which they teach. TFA’s 2010 operating budget of $189 million is funded by foundations, individuals, federal, state and local governments, corporate sponsors, and other sources.

Since its charter year in 1990, TFA has reached more than 3 million students in nearly 40 regions across the nation. Of the organization’s growing alumni of 20,000 former corps members, 65 percent continue to work full-time in education—reflecting TFA’s mission to foster “lifelong leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity.”

Fitzpatrick offers veteran advice for the new Whitman grads entering the corps. “Ground yourselves in why you are there. Understand the injustice and realize that you have the power to make a tremendous difference—event if it doesn’t feel like it at the time,” he said.

Learn more about Teach for America on its website.