The group is the largest in the 10-year history of the organisation, which brings top university graduates from all disciplines back into classrooms to fill vacancies into areas of socioeconomic need.
After a fast-tracked course in education and a two-year placement, participants receive a masters of teaching qualification through Australian Catholic University.
Mr Santhirasegaram is expecting his new gig to be challenging, but he wants to bring skills gleaned from 10 years in the workforce and running a non-profit in Sydney’s west to being a creative and engaging educator.
“I think when teachers talk of burnout, heavy workloads and all the other challenges you hear about, I know our training in classroom management and self-care will be important.
“It’s work with purpose, and that’s what I’m looking for. That’s not to say there isn’t purpose in finance but I love being on the ground level.
“Teaching will also give me the opportunity to be creative in my work and to be self-driven.”
Training 800 teachers in 10 years
The Australian offering is based on the long-running Teach for America program, but remains controversial with unions and education advocates for its cost and retention rates.
Last year the ACT government pulled out, citing plans for strengthening traditional teacher education.
“The focus on addressing disadvantage is something I’m very much aligned with. I’m glad to be part of an organisation trying to bring about some kind of social change and progress,” Mr Santhirasegaram said
Teach for Australia chief executive Melodie Potts Rosevear said she’s received 11,000 applications for about 800 places.
With a focus on improving the status of the teaching profession and improving results for students, she said young professionals from a range of industries were in her sights.
“I’m happy to steal your management consultant for two years and then you can take them back,” she said.
“They’ll be better for you and better for the kids.”
High rankings for graduates
Teach for Australia has been included in rankings of Australia’s top 100 graduate employers but the Australian Education Union says its retention rates for staff are too low to justify $77 million in funding.
A 2017 report showed 50 per cent of recruits remained in teaching three years on, with 30 per cent employed in disadvantaged schools.
More than 40 per cent of recruits work in regional and remote communities.
“It’s hard to maintain the status of the profession if you’re not in their competing for the same talent that’s contributing to concerns about teaching,” Ms Potts Rosevear said.
“Teaching just has a brand problem. Teachers say how rewarding the work is.
“You can see your impact in front of you on a daily basis, but we need to put the right kind of professional development around it so the person feels they’re also growing.”