By Anna Flagg
More than 80 percent of children from high-income homes graduate college, compared to 8 percent of children from low-income homes, according to a statistic quoted by Teach For America representative Ana Wolfowicz. The organization is fighting to change that statistic one teacher at a time.
Representatives from Teach For America visited Baylor this week. Graduate student Dustin Morrow, who is working towards a doctorate in English, spoke about his experience with the organization.
While working as a personal trainer in California, Morrow’s relationship with mentor Rafa Esquith provided the push he needed to get into teaching.
At Esquith’s urging, Morrow began looking into teaching programs and discovered Teach For America.
“I heard about Teach For America, so I started looking at the website and a light bulb went off,” Morrow said. “I knew this was what I was supposed to do.”
Teach For America is a nonprofit organization that connects recent college graduates with teaching vacancies in high-need areas. Acceptance to the program is highly competitive.
According to a June 2011 press release, that year a record-breaking 48,000 applicants tried for spots, while only 11 percent of those applicants were accepted into the program.
If selected, members must dedicate a summer to training and then two years to teaching in primary and secondary schools.
Wolfowicz, who is in charge of recruitment for the North Texas area, spoke at an informational meeting on Tuesday and said Baylor is an excellent source of recruits.
The organization’s mission, community service through strong educational leadership, aligns well with the mission of Baylor.
Morrow applied in 2002 and was accepted in 2003. He was placed in the Mississippi Delta, which was Morrow’s first choice for his location. His training took place in Houston, where he was told his students would be about two to three grade levels behind the educational level they should have reached.
“When we got to the Delta, this was more true than we realized,” Morrow said. “If we had a student two to three years behind, he was our top student. Most were five to seven years from where they should be.”
Morrow taught science, reading, English and math to seventh and eighth grade students. He said it was extremely difficult because the students not only faced an educational gap, but also did not have access to adequate nutrition, transportation, or healthcare.
“Without Teach For America and programs like it, it is difficult for students to catch up,” Morrow said. “It is all about relationships, because when you start to meet kids where they are, it profoundly changes who you are.”
Alumna Robyn Bailes began Teach For America in Kansas City after she graduated in May 2011. She said one of the hardest parts of the job is fighting against the feeling of failure that can sometimes take over as she waits to see the results of her teaching.
“The success that Teach For America teachers bring does not come in one day,” Bailes said. “It takes time to see our students succeed, and I have to come to school each day with a refreshed vision of what I want my students to accomplish.”
Morrow encouraged Baylor undergraduates to apply.
“At Baylor we have people working on these complex social issues all the time,” Morrow said. “Beyond the classroom, Baylor students are preparing for a life of service. Combined with the education students receive here, I think they make excellent candidates.”
The fall deadline to apply for Teach For America is Oct. 26. For more information, visit www.teachforamerica.org.