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Author Topic: Applying for Teach For America
Member # 6645

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So(*) I'm applying to Teach For America for next year. It's a bit of a long shot, for one thing I didn't decide that I definitely wanted to do this until their last application deadline, and if one just looks at my transcript it's not the prettiest sight. There are a lot of Cs on there (even though I am a double major in Physics and Computer Science, I don't feel like that excuses them). Which means I'm rather riding on my interview and essay to carry the day if I'm to get in. I'd really love to get in, I've taught before and enjoyed it, and (I think) been good at it. My students certainly seemed to like me. I think I'd do well in Teach For America, and I feel like it's an extremely worthwhile thing to do.

In light of all this I'm asking for a favor, do you suppose you guys could help me by critiquing my essay? This is already a fourth iteration of it, I've been working on it for some time. But I don't have a whole lot of people around me who can critique it for me, just my girlfriend and a (very good) english professor. I'd greatly appreciate any feedback (including just whether or not you like it, think it works for you).

Here's the prompt:


Word limit: 500 words. Help
Describe a time when you encountered serious obstacles to success while working on a project. You may choose any academic, professional, or extracurricular project you have worked on during the past four years.
Your essay should address all of the following questions:
What was the aim of the project?
What were the specific obstacles that arose, and why did they occur?
How specifically did you respond to those obstacles?
What specific actions did you take? You may describe more than one approach, if relevant.
What was the ultimate outcome with respect to the initial aim of the project?
Why did this outcome occur?
While you should completely describe the obstacle(s) you faced, please do not focus your essay primarily on the obstacle(s); it is more important that you thoroughly explain your reaction and describe the steps you took in response to the obstacle(s). The experience you choose to describe may relate to any academic, professional, or extracurricular project.

And here's my essay:

“Dan! You cannot teach your students pointers; it's only their third day!” Julia looked stunned by what I'd just told her.
“Pointers aren't as hard as people think they are. They can totally get them.” I was convinced of this; in fact, I'd been pushing extra fast just so we could get to pointers and I could prove the point.
“Maybe, but you're going too fast. They barely even understand the basics!” It was about this point that a rock settled into my stomach and I began to realize I'd screwed up, but I was too stubborn to admit it just then.
It was the summer of 2006. I'd been hired as an instructor at Camp CAEN, an elite computer camp run by the University of Michigan. The courses I was to teach ran for two weeks, with three hour classes every morning. Classes contained anywhere from 15 to 20 students (from 13 to 17 years of age), and were typically taught by one primary instructor with the aid of an assistant instructor and a few CITs.
The goal was to cover as much material as is covered in a typical first semester of college computer science. It was my first time teaching and I had seriously screwed up. I was teaching C++, and in an effort to get to my favorite parts of the language I'd burned right through the basic stuff without checking to make sure my students understood it. I would soon find out that they had not.
Shortly after that conversation with Julia, a fellow instructor, I tested my students. I asked them to write me a program using everything I'd taught them so far. To my great embarrassment they couldn't. In fact they were hopelessly lost. I shouldn't have been surprised; In two days I'd burned through material usually covered over the course of several weeks.
When I left that day I knew what I had to do. I went to Julia and asked for help. She was happy to oblige and gave me a variety of materials I could use: worksheets to give my students, programs to have them try to write (and when to have them try them) and -- most importantly -- her syllabus from past years.
The next day I returned to class, asked for my students' forgiveness, and started over from the beginning, going more slowly. I checked their progress often with the worksheets and samples Julia had given me. I explained things as many times as was necessary and spent a great deal of time peering over their shoulders as they worked to write code, offering help as it was needed. By the end of the session we'd not only made up for the lost time, but had made it farther than any of the classes I'd once taken in my time as a student at Camp CAEN.

Does it work? Does it hold together? Does it make you want to hire me?

PS. I already posted this over at SR for those of you in both places, but figured I'd appeal to the wider audience as well.

Posts: 3295 | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 8614

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First impressions: Too much exposition of the problem, too familiar in the tone of the language, and perhaps not smart to focus on an obstacle of your own making (to my reading, the "obstacle" is that you tried to go to fast). Were I to read such an account, it wouldn't inspire me with confidence in your ability as a teacher.

Recommendation: make the obstacle "teaching my first course. How to best inspire these kids." Change the narrative to trying something ambitious to overcome the obstacle, realizing that wasn't working, and refining the strategy with the help of a co-worker. I would find that more appealing as a potential employer (although I can't speak to the Teach for America program; maybe this is their bread and butter).

Posts: 2923 | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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