Teach for America: It's Not Just for Twentysomethings
Launch your encore career in an underserved school's classroom
If you thought Teach for America was just for high achieving twentysomethings, think again.
Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that trains teachers for a two-year commitment in the country’s most underserved schools. Annual pay typically runs between $30,000 and $50,000.
Looking for Encore Career Candidates
While Teach for America has historically done its recruiting on college campuses, the organization has recently been making efforts to find candidates at the other end of the career spectrum.
That’s why Encore.org, where I work, teamed up with Teach for America last week for a webinar explaining the program and sharing the perspectives of a few of its teachers. (Of course, there are other pathways into teaching. For information about different ways to get certified as a teacher, check out the websites of TNTP— formerly The New Teacher Project — and the National Center for Education Information.)
Why Teaching Appeals to Midlifers
As I travel the country talking about encore careers, I am repeatedly struck by how often teaching comes up in conversations.
Veteran teachers routinely tell me that they are tired after working on their feet for 25 or 30 years; they are, however, ideally poised to mentor new teachers or use their skills in new ways, often in education reform or other leadership roles.
Yet for every teacher getting ready to move on, there seems to be someone at the conclusion of another line of work eager to get into a classroom and mentor the next generation of students.
Research backs this up. Surveys conducted by Encore.org confirm that more than 6 million people in the U.S. want to work in education or some other youth-focused role in their encore careers.
That’s no surprise. Midlife is when that generative spirit kicks in, when we get consumed with thinking about what the world will be like for future generations.
The Challenges of Teaching
Teaching isn’t easy, of course. And doing it at the kind of resource-starved schools where Teach for America places its instructors is harder still.
The speakers at our webinar made that very clear.
When asked about her best and worst day teaching, Patricia Rivera, a retired JP Morgan Chase vice president who now works in a Bronx elementary school, paused and relayed two stories.
(MORE: A Manual for Encore Careers)
Her best day was easy to recall. It was the moment when a fifth grader who Rivera had worked with for months to improve his reading showed her his commitment by asking her how he was doing. All it took was someone encouraging him.
Rivera also had no trouble recalling her hardest day. It involved a student who had bounced around various foster homes and ultimately needed to be transferred to another school. “Sometimes it’s magic," she said, "and sometimes it’s tears.”
Why Teach for America Suits People 50+
The more I learn about Teach For America, the more I realize what a great fit the program is for an encore career.
The qualities the program looks for in candidates — leadership, perseverance, a history of achievement — are obviously in strong supply in the 50+ population.
What’s more, Teach for America realizes that good prospects come through many doors; the group has recruited veterans, seasoned professionals and homemakers.
A Tough Application Process
Still, the application process is not easy. John Purvis, a former senior vice president at Oracle and technology entrepreneur who participated in our webinar, said he thought he’d experienced the “most rigorous recruiting processes known to man or woman” until he’d applied for Teach for America.
Teach for America will be sending about 6,000 teachers into the classroom next year; last year, 14 percent of applicants were accepted.
As we closed the webinar, I asked Tom Dunn, a retired capital punishment attorney who now teaches middle school in Atlanta, why he decided to move into education after working to save the lives of people on death row. He answered with this quote from Frederick Douglass, which ties together his earlier career and his encore: “It’s easier to build strong children than to fix broken men.”
It’s hard to think of any better reason to consider teaching as a second or third act.
Watch the Encore.org Webinar
You can watch a replay of our webinar here or on Teach for America’s website, which should answer a lot of questions, such as how the application process works, what it’s like to train and work alongside twentysomethings and how it feels to move from the corporate world to a bureaucracy where there are no two-hour lunches and your IT support may come from a bunch of high-school kids.
If you’re thinking about applying to Teach for America, the next deadline is October 25.You can apply at this link.