Is it really the end of the semester already? It seems like just yesterday I was driving back to Athens for my senior year. As graduation approaches, the time has come for me to decide what it is I am going to do after I receive my diploma in May. If I had my first choice it would definitely be Teach for America. For those of you who have never heard of Teach for America (TFA), it is a non-profit company whose mission is to build a movement to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting the nation’s most promising future leaders in the effort. I first heard about this program while on Alternative Spring Break in Houston this past March and I knew it was something that I believed in and wanted to be a part of.
After doing some research on the program I quickly learned that it was a well known organization and the acceptance rate was around 15%. This was a bit discouraging at first and it actually caused me to start looking in to other options even though TFA was something that I was truly interested in. I think part of the reason that I began to think twice about TFA was due to the fact that I was on a less “traditional” job track than my friends. As my friends began to apply to dental, medical, and grad school, I began to think that I was not being realistic with what I wanted to do. My friends were planning what they wanted to do for their entire life, for the most part, and it seemed that I could only think two years in advance. After looking over different programs I may have wanted to do once in my college career, medical school, graduate school, or getting a full-time job, I could not help but keep coming back to TFA. It was then I realized where my heart really was, it was TFA and the impact that I could make. This is what I wanted to do from the beginning and I was not going to settle for the second best thing.
I began the TFA application process back in September. In order to apply I had to submit an online application by one of the five deadlines. The online application consisted of submitting a resume, letter of intent, and answering questions about past volunteer and leadership experience. It is really important that while completing this application you highlight the seven core characteristics that TFA looks for in their future leaders (this can be found on the TFA website). After completing the application it is a good idea to have multiple people look over your letter of intent and resume; a visit to the Career Center can help in both these cases. At this point it would be a good idea to begin to think about the two people who will be your recommenders. The earlier you let them know, the more time they will have to prepare.
Next, I received an email from TFA letting me know that I was invited to participate in a 30-minute phone interview with a TFA representative. I was so excited! The phone interview is a time to share more information about your past experiences and your interest in TFA. During this time you will be asked traditional interview questions, such as how you stay organized and questions about your most challenging experiences. There are also articles, which talk about TFA core values, which you must read and discuss during the interview. If you have ever had a phone interview, you know that at times it can get awkward. The most important thing is to not feel like you have to fill the awkward silences. Also at times the interviewer may interrupt you; you just have to realize that they are trying to make the most of the 30-minutes and so they will ask questions to lead you to answer a question that they find important. All-in-all you just need to relax and try your best to answer the questions in a concise manner.
Finally, I received another email that invited me to attend a final interview! It seemed too good to be true and I told everyone! Before the interview I was allowed to select my preference for region placement and the grade level I would like to teach. The daylong, in-person interview involved giving a five-minute sample teaching lesson, a group discussion, a problem solving activity, and a one-on-one personal interview. All these things seem pretty intimidating, but it was actually a very comfortable experience. As soon as I arrived in the morning I was greeted by other students who were being interviewed. Everyone was extremely nice and talkative, which eased my nerves. I would definitely suggest coming early to get to know the other participants. My favorite part of the day was the sample lesson plan. There was everything from lessons on similes to a primary color experiment. When it came time for me to go I was relaxed and able to get through my lesson. The one thing I cannot stress enough is to practice, practice, practice. I practiced for at least an hour in front of my friends. The goal you should have for your lesson is to teach a subject, re-iterate what you taught, and quiz them in some way at the end. Also be sure to leave enough time for questions because you will be asked questions! I would even suggest having a four minute lesson plan. The extra minute will account for questions and because it may honestly take you a second to get used to what you are doing. After this we moved into a group activity, a problem solving activity, and then a one-on-one interview. Due to TFA confidentiality policy, I cannot divulge any specifics about any of these events. I can however try to ease your nerves. I was at first intimidated by all these different activities, but they were once again fun. In the group activity and personal interview you are really just having a conversation about TFA and your beliefs. The majority of the questions are going to be based on what you think about things and why you think that way. The best advice I can give to prepare for this is to get into the Career Center and do a mock interview. You may want to do this after submitting your online application so that you will have practiced for both your phone and in person interview.
So what happens next? Now I play the waiting game. Around January TFA will get back to me and let me know if I have been selected to the 2009-2010 corps. I am proud that I have come so far in an application process that is very selective and I hope that my passion for the cause came across in my application and interviews. The most important thing I want to stress is that TFA is not a competition. Yes it is a very selective process, but if they feel you would be a good fit then you will be chosen. You should not stress out too much, but instead try to enjoy the experience and relax. I realize this may seem easier said than done, but I do feel that once you start the process you will find yourself more at ease and having fun.
Good luck for those of you who are applying for the January deadline. If you have any questions or just want to talk about TFA stop by the Career Center or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be more than happy to help you in any way that I can. =)