Teach For America.

What could sound more idealistic and inspiring?

Okay, Teach For the Universe, maybe.

But TFA isn't all about pulling hard-knock lifers out of the dirt and motivating them on to Harvard and the presidency. And it can't always be a fairy tale. One of the big hubbubs about the program is that some TFA-ers have cracked under the pressure even before their first year is up. Of course, others can't stop talking about what a great experience they had and how much they helped their set of kids.

So whether TFA is for you depends on nothing other than, uh, you. Just keep this in mind: TFA is a role that not many traditionally trained teachers are willing (or able) to fill.

If you're still interested, keep reading.

Here's how it works. TFA provides a five-week summer intensive training program to new college graduates who are willing to serve two years in an underprivileged, hard-to-staff school system. The idea: that young, vibrant, and enthusiastic teachers can use their talents to close the performance gap between students of different racial and economic backgrounds.

The TFA website makes a few key claims about their program and their practices:

  • They are looking for a diverse population of teachers.
  • Yes, you need to be a high-achieving college graduate or professional (slackers need not apply).
  • They are looking for folks who are driven to help close the achievement gap.
  • TFA is an alternative way toward certification, and they'll help you reach that goal.
  • They work hand-in-glove with school systems, both charter and public. (Not sure what the difference is? Read up on all sorts of public schools here.)

And that's not all. Here are a few things they want you to keep in mind:

  • You will most likely need to pass a content knowledge test.
  • You'll have to commit to a summer intensive training before you start teaching.
  • You should be willing to commit for two years of teaching and be prepared for a challenging environment.
  • It's not a golden ticket. You will still have to apply and be interviewed for jobs.

If you're not a tough cookie, TFA might not be the best option. But if you're up for the challenge, there are some schools that could use your chutzpah.

First step, America; next step, the Universe.