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Application Tips

The Ideal Teach For America Candidate

Seeking: Leaders who believe in the potential of all kids and are committed to making it happen. Sound like you?

By The TFA Editorial Team

February 5, 2018

While Teach For America alumni and corps members come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, our network is united by the belief that all students deserve an excellent education. No matter where you grew up or what college major you pursued, this core belief is essential.

Corps members fight for the aspirations of students and their families on a daily basis. Along with having strong conviction in our mission of bringing an excellent education to all kids, we have found that a particular set of skills and mindsets will enable you to rise to the challenges of the job and meet students’ needs effectively. Here is a look at the characteristics that make up the ideal TFA candidate. Some are requirements, as listed below, and some are simply traits we’ve seen in those who have significantly expanded opportunity for students in the classroom and beyond.

Core Beliefs

You’re not required to have experience working or living in the place where you teach, but you must have a deep belief that all of its kids deserve the opportunities that a good education affords. With this comes essential principles:

  • Belief in the potential of all kids. You are committed to doing whatever it takes to expand opportunities for students, often with a perspective informed by experience in low-income communities. You have an understanding of the systemic challenges of poverty and racism.
  • Respect for individuals’ diverse experiences. You have the ability to work effectively with people from all backgrounds and approach new experiences with a respect and humility for the people with whom you are working.
  • Understanding that communities know the needs of their students. You will be joining a community that is already working on behalf of students and families. You’re able to assume the best in the teachers and school leaders who have come before you, because they have undoubtedly worked hard for students in the past.
  • Desire to learn about the community where you are placed and understand its historical context.

Join Teach For America 

Apply to teach as part of the 2020 corps and be part of our coalition of leaders working to end educational inequity. 


Leadership Qualities

Corps members are CEOs of their classroom, overseeing all aspects of student learning while delegating tasks appropriately. Corps members are also working to fix the systems that perpetuate inequity, so they must demonstrate the leadership qualities necessary to changing systems in the long run. The following are discernible leadership qualities we’ve observed in successful corps members:

  • Demonstrated leadership ability. You don’t need to have traditional classroom leadership experience, but you’re able to draw upon previous leadership experiences—such as being a sports team captain or president of a sorority—and apply them to the classroom.
  • Strong achievement. You have achieved significant results in the past—such as your strong academic history or experience leading an extracurricular activity—and can recount the specific steps you took to get there.
  • Long-term commitment to reaching goals. You have a strong desire to improve and develop, both personally and professionally. Along the way, you take ownership for your own successes and failures, and you try new things to accomplish your goals.
  • Ability to think critically about any situation. You’re able to imagine all scenarios and think critically about how to solve them. You’re also great at delegating leadership appropriately, since success cannot be achieved alone.

Personal Skills and Abilities

Corps members constantly innovate in their classrooms. When one lesson plan doesn’t work, you refine and reimagine your approach and try new things. Some particular personal skills make this easier to accomplish, including:

  • Perseverance in the face of challenges. You’re able to adjust course quickly when in a challenging situation and flexible along the way.
  • Openness to feedback. You have a willingness to constructively assess your own abilities. We believe in constant reflection and fine-tuning at TFA, and we know that learning never stops.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills. You’re someone who can connect with others. You will need to work in partnership with other teachers, school leaders, and families, and should be able to influence others on your plans.
  • Strong organizational ability. You are a master of managing responsibilities effectively. You keep track of everything that you need to do and always make sure key deadlines are met.

Finally, the Essentials

You don’t need to have completed any specific courses in undergrad in order to be a successful corps member. Corps members have pursued countless college majors at hundreds of colleges around the country. However, you are required to hold a bachelor’s degree by the first day of your summer training, with a GPA of at least 2.50 in a 4.00 scale. Read more about application prerequisites, including citizenship requirements, on How To Apply.

It’s important that all corps members bring their own background and skill sets to their classroom. The unique personalities and experiences that make up TFA allow us to grow and thrive. Alongside fellow corps members, you’re on the front lines of change, doing everything you can to make sure students succeed.

Read more reflections from our CEO, Elisa Villanueva Beard, about what it means to be part of TFA today. Preparing your application for the corps? See our application and interview tips.