My quest to Teach for America
I like to think I'm not a whiny college-age girl who laments the trials of her life that are really not that bad. I find myself listening to my peers when they talk about how gross their hair looks, how unfair a teacher is for giving them a bad grade (even though they didn't study), or how cruel their parents are for not giving them as big of an allowance this month after they broke a rule.
I like to think I'm not like that when I say that applying to Teach for America is intense. But I think it's probably one of the most difficult things I've attempted. And maybe not in a bad way.
Do you know what Teach For America is? It's the national corps in which college graduates are trained for literally a summer before getting sent to some underserved school within the country to try to boost test scores, inspire and work to decrease the educational gap between high-income and low-income students. You can have any major just so long as you possess the seven main qualities the program feels corps members should have, including organizational ability, the capacity to motivate and inspire, determination to work relentlessly and the belief that everyone should have equal opportunities in education.
I think I have all of the seven qualities. But that's totally up to them to judge.
So I'm positive this is something I want to do. I am totally into this. This seems like a great way to start my post-college life and work up to my ultimate goal of helping others.
And now to begin the application process.
Initally it's not too bad. An essay, your resume, a letter of intent, recommendations, answering some questions online and you're golden. If they like you after this brief weeklong (or so) period of deliberation, they invite you to a 30-minute phone interview.
I was pretty nervous about the interview, I must say. I'm not known for being eloquent. But it went well with my interviewer asking questions about my resume and about two articles we were required to read and also asking about myself and my interest in the program.
The worst part after interviews is seeing if they approve of what they saw. I checked my e-mail on the indicated date at least 10 times before I got the message saying that they still liked me enough to invite me to a final interview.
Yeesh. My first shot at a real job.
I've attended so many interview and resume workshops that I should feel ok, but with these people I don't know what to expect.
Everyone in the core is exemplary. Usually I'm used to being near the top, a hard worker with good ethics and habits. Unfortunately, however, EVERYONE applying at this point is like that.
What would make me special enough to get hired? I feel my saving grace is that Teach For America wants to hire as many people as possible and the hiring process isn't really a competition. (I'm not very good at competing anyway.)
I guess all I can do is keep it simple, work hard, concentrate and be myself.
For the final interview I have to present a five-minute sort of mock lesson to the other 11 or so interviewees and two interviewers. Throughout the day we participate in group activities and discussions before we are interviewed one-on-two.
Post-final interview update!
It's been a bit since I started this hub, but I just had my final interview a few days ago and my feelings are mixed... I feel as though I did sufficiently, but I still have that same feeling of not knowing exactly what they want and if I have it, much less actually showed that I have it. I find out in a few days how I did in their eyes.
Personally I worried a lot about dressing for the interview. I had never been to a real interview like that before and was concerned I would be underdressed (I didn't have a jacket and I forgot my pants at San Luis Obispo... I realized this halfway to the interview in San Jose). However, one woman at the interview wore a long-sleeve cotton shirt and khakis... ouch for her.
I was surprised that so many people arrived late. I was the first one there... hopefully I seemed eager and not like a suckass.
My mock lesson was all right. I read up a lot on classroom management and planned on doing a lot more than I actually did (like ask specific students for answers or guesses... that keeps the class attentive and helps ensure they're actually learning). I didn't do terribly, however... no one did. I knew my stuff about sentence structure and didn't fail on that, but I did sort of stammer at one point and didn't hand out my worksheets as early as I hoped.
There were definitely a few who shined and seemed extremely comfortable at the front. I was probably not one of them... haha!
The group activities were better... I felt like I contributed sufficiently and didn't hog the stage. I also felt good that I got my better ideas across and that the interviewers could hear.
At the break I spoke with the other applicants, who were very kind and bright (two were from Stanford, one from USC, one from Saint Mary's, the others from UCs... I was the only one from state school -_-*).
Thankfully my interviewers were kind. They were very passionate about Teach For America, very knowledgeable and friendly. They had both participated in the program and are still involved in different ways.
The next activity was problem solving. We were given some numbers of six schools, three with high attendance and three without, and some of their features and characteristics. From those we had to determine which were the distinguishing factors of the schools with high attendance, explain the factors and how they would affect attendance, and what could be done to increase attendance numbers. That went fine; we only had 30 minutes and I wrote like a mad woman. I hope I was coherent enough. I'm afraid my frantic writing wasn't scholarly enough.
Finally came the personal interviews. Each of the two interviewers took four of us and we each had to sign up for a slot. I chose the last because I had the closest drive home (I was staying with a friend in San Jose). It was 35 minutes late, already three hours later or so, but that was when I felt I did best. It was just me the way I am, honest and relaxed. I do best with people on a one-on-one basis; I am pretty comfortable, plus all the questions were about me. I had to do a role play as a teacher talking to an administrator and felt I did fine. I was also given a couple of scenarios and had to explain how I would handle them. But I think her other questions about me and my intentions were most effective and showed why I was there and what I had to offer.
We'll see how I did later... eek! Wish me luck!
I didn't get the job. Whoops.
But I listen to what my mom said: At least I did the best I could.
I don't know how any of the others that were interviewed with me did.
The one thing that consoled me was my counselor, who tried to help me with my interview. I asked her later if she knew anyone who actually was accepted into the program and she said yes, but that the Teach For America application and interview process is so bizarre that she knows of people who were accepted without even being interviewed and others whom she was amazed made the cut.
What can you do? I'm applying for newspaper jobs now :)
Wow. Now that I'm working in the education field through AmeriCorps, I can see that I really had no idea what I was doing in my Teach for America interview. I may be good at interviewing, and I may have had a great resume, but man, I didn't know the first thing about lesson plans and other areas in education. I cringe when I think about how my lesson went during my final interview. When I look back, I see that I didn't really do anything right. Now wonder they didn't pick me! But then, I didn't know much about teaching because I guess I wasn't that passionate about it, and I had no training in creating lesson plans and curriculum. I like being involved in education, but I am no teacher, that's for sure.
- Preparation Tips | Teach For America
TFA is a national teacher corps of college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years and raise student achievement in public schools.
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