How to Nail Your Teach for America Application
by Seth Sosebee
What is Teach for America?
Teach for America is a national program that places highly qualified teachers from diverse backgrounds in teaching positions in the United States' most vulnerable communities.
With an expansive network of over 53,000 alumni, Teach for America aims to systematically close the opportunity gap that disadvantages children from challenging socioeconomic and/or family situations by providing idealistic and highly motivated new educators.
Who joins Teach for America?
Teach for America requirements state that applicants must possess a bachelor's degree by the first date of training and a GPA of at least 2.5.
A job at Teach for America is ideal for those who intend to pursue careers in education, at least for a few years, and commit to teaching in schools in which they are placed for two years. There, they build skills and gain classroom experience with continued training and support from the organization.
A 2016 study from the journal, Education and Urban Society, revealed that those who began their career at Teach for America self-reported being "competitive, high-performing, and enthusiastically committed to ending educational inequality." The study also notes that TFA participants are commonly from privileged backgrounds and view the program as a stepping-stone toward "prestige careers."
What to expect from the Teach for America application process
The Teach for America application process is highly selective. According to their website, Teach for America is looking for candidates with track records exhibiting success in the academic, extra-curricular and personal arenas, as well as excellent organizational and interpersonal skills.
Here's an overview of the hiring process:
- Online Application: Candidates should plan to display these skills while filling out the online application. The Teach for America application takes approximately two hours to complete and includes screening questions and an essay portion. Applicants must also upload their resume.
- Phone interview: According to testimonials on Glassdoor.com from people who moved past the online phase of the TFA hiring process, they were next interviewed over the phone. Prior to the interview, candidates are required to read several documents online which they then discuss with their interviewer. They are then asked about their employment history, their motivations for applying to TFA, and their views on things like the achievement gap in education.
- In-person interview: The final hiring stage is an interview with Teach for America staffers and/or alumni. They recommend reserving a full day for this and testimonials indicate that these interviews last between six and eight hours.
As with the phone interview, applicants are asked to read several pieces that their interviewers will ask them about. They are also asked in which of the regions that TFA is active they would like to be placed. Former applicants report that Teach for America interview questions are pretty standard fare for hiring screenings:
- "Describe a time you've overcome an obstacle."
- "Why do you want to work for Teach for America?"
- "How do you keep organized?"
- "Describe a time you weren't able to get along with another person. How did you deal with it?"
- "What would you do if you disagreed with a decision your principal made that negatively affected your students?"
You won't be the only applicant at this stage — you will be grouped with five to ten other candidates. Your interviewers will proctor a group discussion in which they will observe your answers and your interactions with the other candidates.
During this phase, you will also be asked to prepare a five-minute lesson plan to show your teaching chops. Most candidates approved to become Teach for America corps members can expect the entire hiring process to take between three and six weeks from start to finish.
How to master the Teach for America interview process
Teach for America interviewing is intense. Below are some tips for acing both the phone and in person interviews and sample lesson delivery:
For the phone interview, you should:
- Provide quantifiable examples of your successes in your interview questions. For example, instead of saying you raised money for a charity, say how much you raised.
- Do research. Go into this part of the hiring process with a solid grasp of what Teach for America is about, the characteristics of people they hire, and what their expectations of you will be.
- Practice. On websites like Glassdoor.com, people who have gone through the Teach for America hiring process can post what questions they were asked in their phone interview. Find ten questions folks were asked and have a friend or family member quiz you. Ask them to critique your answers and tell you in what areas you're strong, as well as where you can improve.
For the in-person interview, you should:
- Absorb the readings your interviewer suggests. Treat these like you are using them to study for a test because you essentially are. There is no way to predict what you will be asked to read, but the Teach for America website provides these informational resources about education reform.
- Participate in the discussion. Do not underestimate the importance of the group discussion. It gives the interviewers a chance to observe your interaction in a free-flowing, organic setting that requires you to think on your feet. You will need to walk a fine line between ensuring that your voice is heard in these discussions and not appearing overbearing or bossy. They want to see how you respond, but also how you listen to others.
For your five-minute sample lesson, you should:
- Teach something with which you are comfortable. Stick with something you know inside and out. It doesn't have to be a school lesson. You could teach the basics of turning a double play in baseball, or even how to tie a shoe.
- Work backward. Begin with what you would like your "students" to learn and then strategize the best way to teach them.
- Use the I do, we do, you do strategy. Explain to your students how to accomplish your goal for them, then model it for them while they watch. Invite your students to perform the task with you, while you offer constructive criticism. When you're satisfied, have them do it on their own.
- Use visuals. Something as simple as a poster or whiteboard can engage different types of learners.
- Avoid doing too much. You only have five minutes, so keep things simple.
- Practice with a timer. Your lesson will be stopped after five minutes, so work on teaching the concept to friends or family while being timed.
To complete the Teach for America application process, you'll need a quality resume. Use our free Resume Builder to craft one that will stand out from the rest. The step-by-step guidance provided will make producing it a snap. The time you save can be used to prepare for your interviews and ensure you'll rise to the top.