Teach For America

Teaching turning into a rest stop on the MBA highway

April 29, 2011: 2:57 PM ET
Classroom led by a TFA corps member during the...

Classroom led by a TFA corps member during the 2008 Houston institute. (Photo: Carnavalet/Flickr)

A growing number of business and economics majors are heading into teaching, joining programs like Teach for America. Who benefits? 

By Gary M. Stern, contributor

FORTUNE -- An increasing number of business, management and economics majors are replacing their briefcases and spreadsheets with blackboard and chalk. Facing difficulty finding work and needing time off to consider graduate school options, some of these business majors have found a temporary place in the classroom: teaching in public schools for Teach for America. But does it benefit the schools, and what effect does it have on the other teachers?

In the last five years, Teach for America, the non-profit organization that trains teachers and places them in classrooms across the country, has seen a spike in applications, from 19,000 in 2006 to 48,000 in 2010. The non-profit is also seeing a rise in interest from business, finance, HR, management and economics majors. Recruits with these majors accounted for 7% of all TFA teachers in 2006, which rose to 10% in 2008 and 11% in 2010. Social science majors -- a category that includes psychology, history, and sociology -- account for 31% of the TFA teaching force, making it the most represented category of majors.

Modeled on the Peace Corps, Teach for America (TFA) participants make a two-year commitment to teaching in underserved neighborhoods. Many become math or business educators but might wind up teaching other subjects based on the needs of local school districts.

Despite the fact that most leave after their two-year commitment, these business majors "push students academically, set strong foundations and help students overcome any deficit. That's as important as someone staying for 15 years in the classroom," says Chante Chambers, a Washington, D.C.-based managing director of recruitment at TFA.

During an eight-week intensive training program, TFA teachers learn how to write lesson plans, manage a classroom and teach in summer school under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Employee partnerships with firms such as Deloitte, Bain & Company and JP Morgan Chase (JPM) enable first-year staff to defer their jobs and spend two years with TFA. More

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