Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Teach for America phone interview, my review

I had a few readers of my blog (wait, did I say readers of my blog? Holy Crap! I didn't think people would actually be READING this thing...) ask how the phone interview with Teach for America went, and what it entailed. Here's a brief summary and my thoughts:

My call lasted about 45-50 minutes, so quite a bit longer than the estimated 30min -- not sure that's meaningful one way or the other. The woman (and I almost want to say 'girl', as I got the feeling that she was fairly young, but more about that in a bit) seemed fairly competent, and was pleasant -- which is a good start. I've done plenty of interviews where the person was awful and stupid to boot.

First we spent a few minutes on Teach for America itself: why I wanted to join, what I thought the goal or mission of TFA was, and what I thought about it. I still find it a little creepy the extent to which they talk about their mission. It has a very, I dunno, religious tone to it. So, we talked about (said robotically) "CLOSING -- THE -- ACHIEVEMENT -- GAP." Just make sure you've read all of their BS literature on their website, and feel comfortable talking about the material, and you should be fine here.

Next, we spent some time going over my resume. She peppered me with some fairly boilerplate resume/job interview questions. They were the sorts of questions one might have trouble answering right out of school, with no job experience. But, really, anyone with even a few years working should have no problem batting these around. Things like:

  • At work, how do you determine success?
  • Have you ever come across a challenge at work, and how did you overcome it?
  • Have you ever had a conflict with someone at work, and how did you deal with it?
  • Did you ever miss a deadline at work, and how did you deal with it?
... you know, pretty easy stuff if you've been working for a while. Who among us hasn't had work conflicts, challenges, missed deadlines, yada yada boom-bada.

The only part of the interview which I thought was interesting was her questions about ORGANIZATION. How do I organize things at work? How do I keep track of what needs to get done and their priorities -- but really specific questions. Do you keep it on paper? In a calender? In Outlook? Pretty interesting.

We spoke about the 3 articles (listed in a previous post) briefly. That was basically a -- Can you comprehend what you read -- sort of question.

And that's about it.

Anyone who's been on job interviews before shouldn't have any problems. It should end up being more of a relaxed conversation. I think it helps when the person interviewing you is (quite likely) a bit YOUNGER than you. 8)

I don't want to jinx myself, but I think I rocked the box on the interview. Though, really, who the hell knows exactly what they're looking for. I very well may have answered something in such a way as to flag me as a bad pick.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Plan B, step 2 .... ACHIEVED!!

Plan B being Teach for America. Step 2 being invited for a phone interview.

I got the email today from Teach for America and have already scheduled my 30min phone interview for 11:20am this Saturday. I also put my two "online recommenders" and my back-up reference person in.

We are suppose to read 3 articles:

  1. "Closing the Achievement Gap" by Kati Haycock
  2. "Education expert Haycock: With change, achievement is possible" by NYSUT News Wire
  3. "Washington Commentary: Redefining 'Inexcusable'" by Anne C. Lewis
And, I suppose, be able to speak about them during the interview -- as well as speak about our past job, scholastic, and leadership experience. I've already scanned the articles and, well, I'll give it to TFA, they're really on message ... all the time. It's all about their MISSION. Closing the achievement gap, etc. It's becoming quite obvious that they're interested in getting people to bark their ideals back to them. I've heard some of the same from some people on various message boards.

So they can't just let you teach, they have to indoctrinate as well.

It's ok though. I can play that game.

Look out Teach for America, I'm 'bout to bust yo door in mutha-F-er!!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Teaching Fellows versus Teach for America

On the surface, both programs acheive the same end -- a short-cut to the classroom. They both have a quick-n-dirty training session over the summer. They both have some sort of support network. Many similarities.

I found an interesting post on the LiveJournal/TeachForAmerica community board, from which I'll quote:

TFA is sort of like a brainwashing evil cult, in my experience, whereas the fellows has the exact same training and support network without the mindfuck. That said, it's a lot easier to fall through the cracks in the fellows and be a lame teacher flying under the radar, whereas TFA is all over you like white on
rice if you suck. WHich is a good thing, I think.

Very interesting. Just from my experience so far, I kind of had the same feelings. I think I even used the word "cult-ey" a few blog posts ago. Not sure what (if anything) to make of this ... just interesting

Special Ed is the new black...

... well, at least it was at Hunter College's Open House for it's Graudate Education Program. They had all the different teaching concentrations arrayed around the lobby of the Hunter-West building (not to be confused with the Hunter-East building, the Hunter-North building, or the Thomas Hunter building) and damnit if all the young ladies there (yes, they were all young, and mostly female) weren't crowded around the Special Ed table, elbowing one another aside for better position, like pre-teen girls at a Jonas Brothers concert ... not that I have any idea who they are ...

First, the badness:

  1. The open house was full-up on mouth breathers, to my horror. My hope is that most of them do not become teachers. Likely a foolhearted hope.
  2. Most of the faculty there were some combination of useless and clueless. The woman at the English desk didn't really know anything, though she was pleasant enough.
  3. The informative handout they gave everyone -- all nice and glossy, well constructed and properly bound -- was straight from the program catalogue, which is available online. Again, useless.
  4. A homeless woman wandered in at one point and started shoving the free food into her mouth.

And, the good:

  1. The pleasant woman who knew nothing called over the one guy in the room who actually had a clue. I was able to extract a few useful pieces of information from him.
  2. I found out that, even without any sort of Alternative Certification program like the Teching Fellows or Teach For America, one can obtain an Internship Teaching Certification and begin teaching before fully completing their Masters program. So plan C could possibly have me teaching by the September after next.
  3. I, much like the homeless woman, made off with a bottle of water and a few cookies.
  4. The cookies weren't bad.

So, to sum up:

Like most of the other information sessions I've been to, this was mostly a bust. The great majority of the information supplied at these things is readily available on the web with minimal digging. You would think that anyone even remotely interested in any of these programs would do a modicum of research on their own ... but ... yeah ... I guess not (see "mouth-breathers" above).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Open House for Hunter College Education Masters

I'm skipping out of work early and going to the Hunter College School of Education Open House for Prospective Graduate Students. It's in the Hunter West building from 4-5:30 today.

I know -- it's a traditional education Masters program, having nothing to do with either the NYC Teaching Fellows or the Teach for America program. I'm going for two reasons:

1) I'm sure there'll be useful information about an education masters program in general -- which is part of both of the alternative certification programs I'm looking to do.

2) You can't have enough fall-back plans, and while NYCTF is plan A, and TFA is plan B .... it's always good to have a plan C.

I'll post back with any good information I gather. However, given my experience with information sessions of all sorts thus far, I'm not expecting any serious enlightenment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Teach For America info Webinar -- live!

As I write this, I'm watching and listening to a Teach For America info Webinar. It's kind of like the NYCTF info session I went to last week, but over the web.

A few things that stick out.

First, Teach for America people are a little bit cult-ey when they talk about themselves. They keep talking about their "mission" and its importance and such. Borders on the creepy.

Second, there is ZERO good information being given here. They've giving a broad, basic outline of the program, and a walk-thru of the online application process. Really, nothing that isn't easily available on their website. I suppose I said much the same thing about the NYCTF info session ... but this is, perhaps, a little worse.

I actually think they SHOULDN'T explain how to fill out the application -- at all. It can be an additional filtering mechanism, pushing aside any dunder-heads who can't quite figure it out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

And now, a word from the Devil's Advocate:

I'm so hopped up on the idea of teaching, so I thought some good devil's advocate thinking would be useful. I've tried talking to lots of friends and family, but have gotten nothing but supportive "Oh! You'd be a great teacher!" sort of responses -- not quite the grappling opposition I was hoping for.

The wife has been the most devil's advocate-ey, though also overwhelmingly supportive -- she's awesome.

I thought it would be a good exercise to list out as many reasons as possible why it would be a bad idea for me to leave my computer career and go into teaching in NYC. I'm not saying all of these are real, practical, or even in the realm of probable worries one should have. It is really a list of any fear that has crossed my mind, if even for a split second.

In no particular order:

  1. Despite my valiant efforts at budgeting and my planning before hand, the huge cut in pay will cause me to not be able to pay my mortgage, or my utility bill or some other such important thing
  2. The kids that my wife and I will have, at some point in the not so distant future, will be lacking in basic crap because I'm not making enough money
  3. Money woes will cause stress between The Wife and me
  4. Teaching will be awful, and I'll hate it and I'll quit after the first year, or even after the first month
  5. I'll get stuck in a school where the kids are all monsters, and will end up not reaching a single damn one of them and the whole exercise will be a huge waste of my time
  6. I'll get put in a bad neighborhood and end up getting stabbed outside of the school
  7. While on the mend from that first stabbing, I'll then get stabbed inside the school
  8. In a poetic example of Karma, a kid in one of my classes will throw a potato at me while my back is turned to the class (remind me to tell you more about that one some day)
  9. The teacher's pension that I'll be relying on will go bust after I've put in 19 years and I'll end up retiring to a home for poor old white mother F-ers
  10. Teaching will be awful, but my stubbornness will prevent me from quitting and I'll end up being a bitter, nasty-ass teacher.
OK -- that's really all I could think of. Really not all that bad, eh?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

NYCTF Info Session -- My Thoughts

I attended an NYCTF information session downtown today. Right off the bat, I was a bit put off by the timing and location of the whole thing. Did nobody down at NYCTF headquarters think it might be bad idea to have such a session 2 blocks from ground zero on September 11th? So my antennae are already up, sniffing out NYCTF idiocy.

The session was held at High School for Leadership and Public Service -- which, frankly, puts too much of an Orwellian ring in my ears, but anywho -- down on Trinity street, again, just south of ground zero -- oh sorry, Ground Zero. The session had three parts: 1) info, 2) talk by 2 former Fellows, 3) Q&A.

The information section was given by some dude from the NYCTF who was not a teacher himself. He is kind of their communications/applicant relations/website sort of guy, a little too hipster-dufus* for my tastes. While I'm sure everything he said was useful to many people in attendance, it was not substantially more than what can be gotten by combing their website for 20 minutes.

The talk from the two former Fellows was actually quite good. One was a guy, originally from a small town in upstate New York who moved to NYC to teach ESL in the Bronx. The other was a woman, a lawyer for 10-15 years before switching careers, who now teachings Special Education. They both had good stories and spoke well of the program -- but, I mean, it's not as if they would bring anyone in who had bad things to say about it.

The Q&A session was illuminating on two fronts. First, there actually were a handful of good questions. Second, so many of the questions were outlandishly moronic that it made me feel better about my chances of getting into the program. I actually felt like turning around to some of them and going, "Really? No ... seriously though .... really?! That's your question? Really?" One woman actually asked if, once accepted to the program, whether she could quit ........ the guy running the session wasn't even sure how to answer such a question. He eventually said, "Well, we're not going to ... you know ... come repo your car or anything," -- I enjoyed that.

The few tid-bits of useful information I got:

  • Borough and topic assignments usually happen in mid-to-late April, but they may be trying to push the schedule a few weeks earlier this year, so everything might end up being pushed forward slightly
  • the cancellation of the mid-year program means that about 120-130 of the spots might already be taken for the June 2009 program
  • they've just started looking through June 2009 applications, so people who've applied early (i.e. Me!) should start hearing responses 2-4 weeks from now
Anyway. I wasn't expecting too much out of this session, but it was interesting to go nonetheless.

* Hipster Dufus: Someone who has taken being hip and unique to an extreme and therefore worn the "cool" out of the hip.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Timelines, etcetera

Currently, I'm waiting on two different timelines, one for NYCTF and one for TFA.

The NYCTF timeline is ill defined and things seem to happen whenever the program gets around to doing them, but, roughly speaking, I should know whether I make it to the interview stage of the process by mid-October.

The TFA timeline is very well define: here. They're almost Nazi-like about it. They indicate (on their applicant portal) whether you've been invited to to attend an interview on Sept 25th, and you MUST respond within 24 hours, or you lose your spot.

In addition to these two events, I'm also going to 2 informational sessions in September: this Thu, Sept-11, I'm going to an info session for NYCTF and on Sept-23, to one for Hunter College's Masters in Education program.

Oh, and I'm looking into the Hunter College program as a Plan-C of sorts -- if I get into neither NYCTF or TFA.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Great quote...

Came across a great quote by H.L. Mencken about teaching:

"The essential difficulty of pedagogy lies in the impossibility of inducing a sufficiency of superior men and women to become pedagogues. Children, and especially boys, have sharp eyes for the weaknesses of the adults set over them. It is impossible to make boys take seriously the teaching of men they hold in contempt."

Very nice.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fallback plans, Teach For America, Etc..

I've now also applied to the Teach For America program. Here's what happened...

So, I was kind of freaking out yesterday. I realized that one of the two essays I submitted in the NYCTF had a few grammatical errors and typos. I think I copy/pasted an unedited version over by accident. Now I'm worried that I won't get an interview because of a copy/paste mistake.

I mean, I have a solid resume, a 4.0 GPA, etc -- I should at least get an INTERVIEW. But it got me thinking -- what if I don't get in. What would my fallback plan be?

I decided my plan B would be the Teach For America program. It's a similar alternative certification route program. It looks like the main difference is that they don't directly subsidize your Masters degree. However, they do pay a monetary bonus equalling about $9500 over two years of service -- and if I got my Masters from a CUNY school, it would financially end up being about the same. I haven't done as much research into the TFA program -- and the information on their website seems far more vague, with much less specifics.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The NYCTF application process, timing ...

Before I bother getting my skirt in wad about the umpteen thing I MIGHT need to worry about (e.g. finances, classroom violence, moron principals) I need to actually get into the NYCTF program.

There is a great LiveJournal site that anyone thinking about the NYCTF should go read. It's been around since 2005, and is treasure chest of posts from people going through the NYCTF program, or who tried to get in but were rejected, or who got in and have since left teaching, or who have gotten in and are still teaching. Post from all sorts. It's great to get the lowdown of what to expect and how things play out from so many different vantage points.

Now, the application process.

The application process (for the regular, summer program) goes something like this:

  1. Apply. Wait for invitation to interview (2-4 weeks??)
  2. Schedule interview (you have 3-4 weeks to schedule something)
  3. Go on your interview. Wait for response (3-5 week??).
  4. If not accepted, you are either outright rejected, or waitlisted.
  5. If accepted, go out for beers.
Now, those timeframes above, giving # of weeks, have been gleamed from the NYCTF website, from peoples' experiences, etc. Of course, I've read and heard of great differences in how long things take.

The initial wait after you submit your application is usually consistently quick, 2-4 weeks. However, it seems like it can be much longer if your application was put in right as they're finishing up the previous group's application process -- say, if they finished taking in applications for the Mid-Year program and you've JUST put in an application for the following year's regular summer program. So, people who've submitted their applications in Oct, for example, usually got answers in 2-4 weeks, without exception. But people who (as I did) put in their applications in August, when the mid-year program applications were just winding up, might not get as timely a response.

I've heard/read/gleemed that about 60% of applicants get an interview. Once you are invited to interview, you only have a few weeks to actually schedule one (via your application portal on the NYCTF website). Once you interview, official NYCTF literature SAYS you will receive an answer in 3-5 weeks. But again, this seems to vary greatly, depending on the time of year you apply. In general, it looks like they do not accept people into the regular, summer program until after the first of the year, and often not until well into February. So if you interviewed in the late fall, you might not hear an answer until 4-5 months later. Whereas, if you interview in Jan or Feb, you could hear a response within a few weeks.

But, the admissions are on a rolling basis, so they fill positions with qualified candidates as they come in. Thus, the earlier you apply, the more spots are open in which to be placed. So the long wait might be worth it.

And then, once you're accepted -- well, then the fun (cough horror) begins.


Got some good feedback from the folks at the NYCTF about the timing for step one above. Looks like, regardless of how early you apply, they will not be responding to applicants for the regular summer program until around mid-October.

Why the NYC Teaching Fellows program?

In response to a long-term, systemic shortage of teachers, the city created the New York City Teaching Fellows program (NYCTF) in 2000. As stated on their website:

... the mission of the NYC Teaching Fellows program is to recruit and prepare high-quality, dedicated individuals to become teachers.
Basically, the program allows someone looking to leave their current career and become a teacher to do so without first having to go back to school, get a Masters, get their teacher certification -- up to a three year process. Previously, this process acted as a significantly high bar of entry for otherwise qualified individuals looking to teach. The NYCTF program short-circuits this bar, allowing candidates accepted into the program to begin teaching immediately (after some brief, fast-track training). All of the requirements listed above are still there, but the Fellows can obtain them all WHILE already teaching. The Fellows also get a subsidised Masters degree.

This is the program I have applied to.

While I've heard many good things about the program, and even spoken with people who have gone through it, the picture isn't all rosy. I've also heard (and read) plenty of horror stories: of newly minted teachers quitting after their first year or even within the first few months; of horrific classrom conditions, abusive and apathetic students, abusive and apathetic principals; of swift disallusionment with teaching; and on, and on, and on.

I'm not going into this with any sort of wide-eyed idiocy. I understand that the average NYC classroom environment may be less than ideal. I understand that, in the end, it all may turn out to be the wrong move for me. I understand all of this. I don't think I'm going to change the world one inner-city kid at a time. I don't think I'm Michelle Pfieffer in that movie where she changes the world one inner-city kid at a time. I understand that, even if it works out and even if I like it, that it's going to be difficult.

I'm not choosing to go into teaching because it's easy, or because I want to "make a difference", or to "give back to my community." I am choosing to become a teacher because I want to teach. Period.

You know how some people decide they want to paint, some people decide they want to climb a mountaing, some, that they are going to write a novel or start an Internet company. Well I've decided that I am going to teach. Of course, I do hope to change a few lives along the way.

I think the NYCTF program gives me the opportunity to get into teaching, relatively quicky, and see if it fits. I fully beleive that it will and I'll spend the rest of my life doing it. But if it doesn't work out -- and I imagine that is something I'll know fairly early on -- I'll have the flexibility to switch back to a career in computers. Such a jump BACK to computers is not my desire, but, if I'm realistic about this (and I've promised myself that I will be), have to keep that as a fall-back position.

This all assumes, of course, that I actually get INTO the program. I'll talk about process in my next post.

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