Tufts Alumni in Teach for America

There’s a middle school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where not all math classes are created equal. In one classroom, Wyatt Cadley, A13, asks his students about their basketball games and family outings before picking up the lesson where he left it the previous day. Meanwhile, the students across the hall wonder which substitute teacher will walk through the door. Unfortunately, this disparity is just one instance of a nationwide problem with finding qualified teachers for low-income school districts.


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Cadley is one of 35 Jumbos who became Teach For America (TFA) corps members last fall. TFA, which recruits college graduates to commit to teaching for two years in high-need schools, seeks to improve education for children growing up in low-income communities. The need for teachers like Cadley is substantial. Even with more than 150 TFA teachers, the Tulsa public school system where he works started the 2013–14 school year with dozens of vacancies and relied on a revolving lineup of substitutes to fill the gaps.

Think globally, act locally

TFA is a favorite among Tufts graduates. In 2013, the university ranked sixth among schools of similar size in the number of graduates joining the program, and a total of 241 alumni have taught as corps members during TFA’s 23-year history.

“Tufts students are really aware of issues of justice that are at play in this country and internationally,” says TFA Recruitment Manager Nick Diaz. “I think they are particularly attracted to the program because they embrace the ‘think globally, act locally’ mantra and see TFA as an opportunity to really serve their communities.”

Maura Donahue, A10, who joined TFA two years after graduating from Tufts, used Tufts’ focus on active citizenship as inspiration for her pre-kindergarten classroom in East Harlem. “The vision I wrote for the school year is based on helping my students become engaged in their classroom community and making big concepts small. Being considerate, helping, sharing—they’re learning the fundamentals,” she says. Donahue’s classroom got a Tufts boost when Jonathan Tisch, A76, visited. Tisch, who is vice chairman of the Board of Trustees and naming benefactor of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, sponsored Donahue’s teaching position. “Jon visited during our veterinarian make-believe unit,” she says. “He jumped right in and played along with a student who was pretending that her dog, a stuffed animal, had broken its leg.”

How it works

TFA corps members are full-time employees of their school districts, which compensate them with the same salary and benefits as other beginning teachers. Additional benefits provided by TFA include intensive teacher training and mentoring, an education award to be used toward payment of student loans or educational expenses, and payment of interest on college loans put in forbearance. Before they can be hired by a school, most corps members must receive a state-issued teaching credential and must have completed specific college courses in the subject they will teach. Corps members who hope to continue working in education after their two-year commitment may also receive funding toward their master’s degree.

Cadley isn’t surprised that so many Tufts graduates are drawn to TFA. “I see Tufts values in TFA’s values and vice versa,” he says. Values like looking for opportunities to serve, acting to promote justice, and helping students flourish regardless of their backgrounds. It seems Cadley is right—48 Tufts graduates will lead classrooms as corps members this fall.

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