A different path

For recent college graduates, the job market has always looked daunting — but following the economic downturn many are even less sure of how their degrees can translate into a career.

This fall, Teach for America (TFA), a member organization of AmeriCorps, will place 4,500 young teachers into urban and rural low-income schools.

The incoming corps is the largest the organization has seen since it was established 20 years ago.

With its record-breaking 46,000 applications for the upcoming year, it seems more college grads are recognizing the benefits of a different brand of post-graduate work experience.

“I think a lot of people are looking at programs like Teach for America as a way of having a high-impact position or job right out of college,” said Carrie James, national communications director for TFA.

Team-building, professional and community development are all skills corps members can expect to gain during service with member organizations of AmeriCorps. TFA Corps members receive a first-year teacher’s salary up to $45,000. AmeriCorps also offers an education award, totaling more than $9,000 toward future education.

AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities each year for adults of any age to engage in hands-on service. President Obama has increased the proposed budget for the Corporation for National and Community Service to $1.4 billion.

For James, there is an added “silver lining” to the economic challenges and the job-searching.

“I would really encourage recent college graduates to take that time to really think about what they want to do and the impact that they want to have on their community and on our country,” James said.

Gena Kim spent two years at a small charter school in Philadelphia and stayed on for an additional year. She remembers an afternoon she spent with one of her eighth graders in detention, working with him on his homework.

She had struggled to reach out to the student who, according to Kim, didn’t seem to have many positive influences in his life.

“After a while, he was getting the hang of [his homework],” she said. She recalls that, at that moment, he was no longer restless to abandon his schoolwork.

Part of her job as a corps member was to help students to feel they had the capacity to do well in their studies .

“You work really hard for a certain lesson to go a certain way. Then, you take your well-planned lesson to the classroom, and everything gets flipped upside down because it often depends on students,” Kim said, “It’s a fun balance of over-the-top planning combined with fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants improvising.”