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To join or not to join the Teach For India Fellowship

Note: This was originally written as an answer to this Quora question: How good a career move to join Teach For India Fellowship is for fresh graduate?

Before you ask the question, it is important to understand that Teach For India Fellowship is not a career move, it’s a commitment move. It is apt for you only if you have a selfless streak inside you, you love people, and you want to develop yourself in a way where money is secondary for at least two years. It’s a rare sacrifice opportunity for two years, not a regular career/job opportunity, and be absolutely clear about this much.

Now, whether you’re a fresh graduate or have worked for several years, consider joining the Fellowship only if:

  • you genuinely believe in the mission and wish to be part of it. (If you do not, you won’t be able to give your 100% for two years, which severely jeopardizes the education you give to the kids you teach. On a personal level, you run the risk of dropping out midway, in which case you don’t have any evidence of having been on the Fellowship.)
  • you are not there primarily to build your résumé. (The Fellowship is too tough a task to do only for a résumé.)
  • you have basic entrepreneurial skills. (And “entrepreneurial skills” is not just the fantastical cool one-liner, “being your own boss”; it means each of these: leadership, aptitude, self-belief, ability to constantly compete against yourself, genuine love for people and especially your stakeholders, and extreme perseverance that can make you exercise all these skills for not just weeks, but for years. People may want to develop these skills at the Fellowship, but having them at some basic level is essential.)
  • you are not in dire need of money for the time being. (The Fellowship has a fine stipend but it is all about limited budgets and resourcefulness.)


One may have selfish motives to join the Fellowship, but still, the above list of points is an excellent way to start deciding. If all of these apply to you, please apply asap.

***

Now that you have decided to join, we can finally call it a career move. And, it is the best career move you’ll ever make. You’ll get to develop yourself a lot with one of the best NGOs to work for (haven’t seen anyone here use the phrase “work for”; we all voluntarily choose to use “work with”—and that’s where an organization wins), and make positive change at the same time. TFI will change your life path, as well as change the life path of some dozens of children you get to teach.

8 Responses
  • Sahil
    May 25, 2015

    Hi Tanay,

    I am Sahil, I did B.Tech in Instrumentation and Control Engineering from Amity in 2012. I have worked for Wipro as a software Engineer for 2.5 Years and I am currently working in Accenture.
    I have been selected for the TFI fellowship program 2015. I was actually ready and was happy to join TFI but now I am concerned about my decision. Here are some things which make me feel dubious about my decision.

    1. My Interest

    Yes, I want to join TFI. I do believe in the idea and want to get involved in this noble cause. But it is also true that I am frustrated of my current IT job and have no interest in it. So I am confused that is it just because I want to get rid of IT, I am joining TFI. Do I really want this in life or just because it sounds very good to do social work and help the society. I am not planning to do an MBA after this but I want to earn good amount of money after 2 years.

    2. Family’s Financial Condition:

    My father experienced when I was 8, I have a mother who has a government job. I have a younger brother who is still doing his B.Tech. Also I have my grandmother who is in her late 70’s. Our family income is about 45k(excluding mine, I earn about 40k p/m). My mother is not worried about my income she is supporting me to join TFI, but then I have relatives and friends who think it is a poor decision to join TFI considering my family’s financial condition.

    3. I have this lady who’s been living in my neighborhood since I was born. She is 60 + now and she is single as she didn’t marry to take care of her old mother (who’s no more now). When my father died she came forward for help and told my mother that she will be giving tuitions to my brother and me, free of cost. Not because we were weak in studies, but to keep us busy and to look after us. We started calling her “bhua”. She taught us for more than 5 years. A week back she suffered from a stroke and her right side has been completely paralyzed. She doesn’t have any relatives has nobody to help her financially or physically at this stage. There are just few close friends including my mother who are helping her at this time. In this scenario my heart says isn’t it better to support her financially and by devoting little time for her instead of going to TFI.

    4. A Government Job:
    My mother had a dream that I will get a government job someday. She keeps filling some or the other government job entrance forms on my behalf. A week back SSC CGL 2014 results were out and unfortunately I missed the Interview positions by 8 marks. But the marks will get me a TAX ASSISTANT from which I will get about 25K p/m. And I am very neutral about it. My mother wants me to prepare again and get better marks to get better position in CGL 2015. If I go for this job I would have to leave TFI fellowship in the middle of the program, but I am still not sure whether I want this government job or not.

    Please give me your valuable inputs and help me in taking my decision ASAP, as I don’t have time.

    PS: I have already submitted my resignation in my present organization.

    • Tanay Sukumar
      May 25, 2015

      Dear Sahil

      Thanks for writing and explaining your situation. I understand how difficult it is being for you to take a decision, and I also know you need to decide urgently to be able to join Institute 2. This is a critical life choice for you, so I can only help drive your thought process, not really tell you what’s better. So please pardon me if my reply is unable to give you an absolutely clear idea.

      1) For the next two years, your family income will be around Rs 62000 per month. You’d know better how good that is for your family. You need to sit with the family and discuss this together, how wise would it be given the situation. You need to involve your younger brother as well in the decision, and assess his inclination towards taking a sustainable college placement in his final year (is he going to be interested in technical jobs that pay well, or would he also want to take the route of passion? Or a government job?)

      Together with your family, first DEFINE what you mean by “supporting your mother/family”. For a family size as much as yours, with another earning member soon to join (i.e. your brother), and one member earning Rs 45k a month, how do you define this support, be clear about it:

      A) Having a secure government job, irrespective of salary?
      B) You earning X per annum? How much is X?
      C) You earning X per annum after at least Y years, and having the flexibility to earn less than X till then? How much is X and Y?
      D) You and your brother teaming up to support the family, together earning at least (X + Y) per annum respectively, even if it means X is too less and Y is a lot, as long as X + Y is fixed. Define X + Y.

      If I were you, before going for the emotional thought of “I must support my family”, I’d try to put logic in it, to first KNOW what that support means financially. Unless I know that, I won’t be able to make a choice. For example, if support means earning Rs 50000 a month now, it’s clear, you must not join the Fellowship. If support means earning at least Rs 80000 a month at some point, but being flexible for the next 3 years, then you have the choice to join. You see what I mean. This, you and your family knows best.

      2) Next, why do you want to join the Fellowship? Get the doubt out of your head asap. If you’re going for it because you want to escape your IT job, you know it, and be honest to yourself about it. It’s not unnatural, nor immoral to feel that way, trust me. You just need to accept it if it is so. If it’s because you want to impact education, change the lives of some children, and gain vital leadership skills, say it. Since you have been given an offer, I am confident of your skills and mindsets to be able to do the job well.

      3) If the money you’d earn in these two years would be enough to support your family, then do join; but let’s think what after the two years? IT sector: no. Non-profit/social sector: Quite possible, as many of our Alumni go for it (most probably you’d earn the same amount as you earn now, or slightly lesser, but not too likely that you’d earn much more than that). Government job: Best option to finally go for, to support your family.* Your brother might be placed by then, and you’d need to take that into account; if he gets a great placement, then it may take a great deal of pressure off you.

      Now, whenever you join a government job, how much would you love it? Would you expect wanting to move out of that too soon, since you seem to be someone who’d want to quit if you don’t like your job? Of course, you might not actually move out because of the perks involved, but would you really love the job? What sort of a government job do you need to look for, so that you can be passionate about it? AND, if you delay the government job till after the Fellowship, what sort of a government job would you want to look for THEN, so that you can also apply all your learnings in it? You wouldn’t want to be a bank P.O. or tax assistant, having developed skills and mindsets of a leader, suited to a social sector where you’ve worked at ground level for two years: you might want to join the civil services then, to utilize your skills to change the society directly. You’d want a job which gives you a platform to use your new skills and knowledge for good.

      So, if you’d want to join something big like that in government sector, the two-year Fellowship will actually give you a brilliant understanding of the things at ground level, and you should go for it and invest two years. If you’d want just a government job (for the sense of security) after the Fellowship, you might better go for it now itself and not spend two years here. (However, spending two years here would most likely empower you so much with skills and mindsets that after two years, you may no longer want a government job *just* for the sense of security.)

      4) Now also think how you, as a person, fit in the conventional set-up of things, and how ambitious you are. If you want to break conventions and take risks, do join the Fellowship. For a safety first approach, irrespective of your passions, take up a government job. This would be totally dependent on what your approach in life is. If you can wait for two years for a government job, it would be great for your personal development (since you’re clearly unwilling to join one even when you’ve secured a job, so I’m assuming you could wait for some more time — can that wait time be as long as two years?).

      5) Remember that if you join a government job now, you are likely never to consider the Fellowship again. You would miss a lot of life skills and mindsets that the Fellowship builds in you.

      P.S. You mentioned relatives. Ignore them. Decide with the people you have to directly support: mother, brother, grandmother.

      I hope this helps a bit. These are my personal opinions, and some other Teach For India Alumnus might have different thoughts; the choice is entirely yours. Please let me know what you end up doing. If you choose to come to Institute 2, don’t forget to meet me!

  • Sahil
    May 26, 2015

    Hi Tanay,

    First of all thanks a lot for taking out time and for giving me your valuable inputs. After Re-thinking and doing all the calculations, I think I will need a little more money to support my family, even 6-7K more( which might not sound like a big amount) would have helped me to create a balance between our income and expenditures. Also I would like to help my aunt who is ill with the extra money I earn in my present job.

    After thinking again, I came to a conclusion that I wanted to join TFI to bring THE CHANGE, and also to develop myself as an individual. I truly wanted to join TFI, but I think I am not brave enough to take such a decision where my family might suffer. I will probably not join TFI now and will continue with my IT job.

    Again thank you so much for your guidance and help.

    • Tanay Sukumar
      May 26, 2015

      Hey Sahil

      I am happy that you feel much clearer now about your choice. I totally respect it and trust that you have taken the best decision for yourself.

      My response was under the assumption that you have already submitted your resignation and hence can’t continue with your current workplace 🙂

      • Sahil
        May 26, 2015

        Ya I have submitted my resignation but now I will have to withdraw it.

    • Tanay Sukumar
      May 26, 2015

      However, if you think you may be in a position to join a year later, do consider requesting for a deferral instead of totally letting go of the offer.

  • tamanna
    Nov 19, 2015

    Hii,

    I have some questions regarding teach for india. I have completed my engg. in ECE in 2013. Then I worked as college lecturer. From past 8 months I am not working anywhere. Preparing for govt. sector and selected in RRB written examination.

    In future I would like to open up educational institution. I am not sure whether to join TFI or not because in these two years my parents will go for my marriage also.

    Confused!!!

    Plz reply ASAP

  • shreyas
    Jul 13, 2017

    Hey man can you shed some light on, what might be the opportunities, or where can I move on to after two years at TFI

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