Posted 07/27/2009 - 11:12:37am by Terry Nagel
Teach for America has made teaching cool for graduating seniors from the nation's best universities. Are they now going to make it cool for don't-dare-call-them-seniors graduating into their own encore careers?
Paula Lopez Crespin, 50, gave up a banking career, took a $32,000 pay cut and now teaches in a "gang-riddled section of Denver." For that opportunity, she had to compete with tens of thousands of applicants, go through a challenging selection process and convince skeptical Teach for America officials she was sincere.
“How much more honest can I be?” she told The New York Times. “I want to change careers. This is not a résumé builder.”
Crespin is among the 81 percent of Teach for America (TFA) applicants last year who were either career changers or graduate students, which the organization is increasingly focused on in an attempt to increase the number who continue teaching after the two-years TFA requirement.
Currently, 40 percent of TFA teachers leave after the two-year commitment in a low-income school. Finding applicants is not a problem for TFA. This year 42 percent more people applied to the program than last year: 35,178 for just 4,100 positions.
Hiring experienced adults like Crespin is part of TFA’s new strategy. “Age is not a factor,” says Grant Besser, head of TFA’s "emerging markets" team, who is looking for "leaders and high achievers committed to education reform.”
Writer Cecilia Capuzzi Simon writes, “Seasoned professionals like Ms. Crespin might help improve that retention rate by bringing self-knowledge, work ethic and tested ideals to the job.”
Crespin says her friends thought she was crazy to give up her banking career and take a $32,000 pay cut, but she maintains it would have been insane to remain in a job she “just couldn’t stomach anymore” and opted instead to do “something meaningful with my life.”
Crespin had been drawn to teaching before, but gave up and returned to banking after several months of substitute teaching because she was unable to find a fast-track program. Her second introduction to the field came via her daughter, who was accepted into TFA after graduating from college.
Fearing for her daughter’s safety in an inner-city classroom, Crespin opposed the move until she visited her daughter on the job. “That was the ‘wow!’ moment for me,” she told Simon. “I was sitting in the back and wanted to wave to her, but she was in a zone, in command. She was the best teacher I had ever seen.” Crespin decided to apply to TFA herself.
The job isn’t easy. Crespin typically works 60 to 65 hours per week, “beyond what you get paid for.” But she and her husband, who recently obtained a master’s degree in social work, preparing for his own encore career, do not regret dipping into their 40l(k)s, refinancing their home and cutting back on spending. “We are happier than we were,” she said.