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Teach for America vs. City Year: What are YOU Doing Next Year?

When I tell others how passionate I am about education, their first response is usually, “So you should be a teacher!” My answer? No. Hey, I don’t blame them for assuming that; being a teacher would be the first logical thing to come to mind. But what that tells me is that we have a real problem on our hands. How come no one asks if I want to go into education policy or work for an educational nonprofit? You should not be a teacher until you have committed your life to it—until you have had enough classroom experience and until you know for certain that you will be able to support and challenge each and every child in your class to reach his or her full potential. We all know that the saying, “Those who can’t, teach” is a load of crap. The more accurate version of that is what Aristotle said: “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

This is a picture of me and my 7th grade student, Janiqua.


Last year, I took a gap year and volunteered full-time (over 1700 hours) with an AmeriCorps program called City Year. In case you haven’t heard of it, City Year is a service program that employs young people ages 17 to 24 to volunteer in the most underserved schools in twenty-four U.S. cities, and two international cities. In short, the mission is to solve the dropout crisis through English, math, attendance, and behavior intervention. Corps members provide in-class support, run small group and one-on-one tutoring sessions, facilitate an after school program, serve as mentors, and do absolutely everything in between.

When I explain City Year to people, they often say, “Oh, so it’s like Teach for America?” Again, my answer is no. Not in the slightest. The primary distinguishing factor between City Year and Teach for America is the difference in roles. City Year corps members are near-peer tutors and mentors that provide academic reinforcement. They are not the primary figure in the classroom. By contrast, Teach for America corps members take on arguably one of the most difficult jobs to exist: they become real teachers for two years. Most are fresh out of their undergraduate careers and are testing the waters to see if teaching is something they want to do, or are using TFA as a stepping stone to something bigger. 

Don’t get me wrong- I see the benefits of this approach. You have young, energetic, well-educated individuals ready to make a difference. And there are some individuals that succeed in that endeavor. But the reality is that TFA corps members only have two more weeks of training (a total of a mere five weeks) than City Year corps members. More than fifty percent of them leave after the two-year requirement and more than eighty percent leave after the third year. By the time they quit, they have yet to or are just beginning to develop the necessary skills of being a good teacher. In the meantime, they have struggled to be an effective leader. In turn, many of their students fell behind. What these students desperately need and deserve are experienced teachers. Time is precious. The dropout crisis in the United States is currently so severe that every twenty-six seconds, a high school student drops out. That’s over eight thousand students every day and over six million students over that two-year span. While I believe Teach for America corps members care deeply about turning around the dropout crisis, it is ironic that many of them are unintentionally adding onto the issue. Teaching is not meant to be a temporary job; it should be a long-term career.

If you are interested in getting a glimpse into the American public school system and are ready to work extremely hard, I urge you to apply to City Year! One of the best things about being a City Year corps member is that you form a very unique bond with your students because it’s a near-peer relationship. Many corps members become so close to their students that they have much more influence on them than the students’ parents, teachers, and even their friends. Another great thing is that City Year attracts corps members heading on all different career paths. The corps is full of diverse, interesting, and devoted young people who will become your lifelong friends. This is a critical time for our education system and you might be surprised at how much of a difference you could make. You (and our students) don’t have anything to lose! One year of your time just may impact someone’s entire future. 


Photo Courtesy to the Author

Hey y'all! My name is Claire and like many people at Pitt, I'm a total city girl and I love exploring new urban neighborhoods. I grew up in Washington D.C. and spent a gap year volunteering full-time in East Harlem, NY with an education nonprofit called City Year. I love to cook and bake, tutor, thrift, speak foreign languages, and listen to any kind of music from Motown to jazz to reggaeton! 
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