The First Opportunity: A Success!

11 Jan

A New Chapter

I am so happy to announce that I have been offered a position in the Teach For America: Appalachia 2014 Corps! After an exhausting interview day, several online activities and questions, and many hours of preparation and nerves, I am so excited to have this opportunity! Teach For America is one of if not the pioneer for educational progress and equality for all students. Yes, that means ALL students.

I heard about Teach For America (TFA) in a course I took this fall, Nonprofit Management. My professor described the organization as one that thoroughly vetted its applicants, and I learned the truth behind that statement. After speaking to a former recruiter, I learned that more people get into Harvard than Teach For America. No pressure, right? My professor continued to talk about TFA as the spearhead for changing policy while still actively serving communities across the country, something some nonprofits struggle with balancing.

The Decision

Along with my offer into the 2014 Corps, there are lots of factors to consider. First is the location of my placement. The Appalachia region was second on my list of choices, so I am very happy about this factor. The Appalachia region is mostly Eastern Kentucky, with a 12 county area where I may be teaching. Some of these counties include: Knox, Mercer, Pike, and Lectner, for those of you who would like to pull up a map of Kentucky. (I hope to post a map soon, but I’m still working through the area myself.) My family is currently in Southern Ohio, Brown County, to be specific. So the distance to some of these areas is actually less than I travel to get to Otterbein for college. My distance home would be between two and four hours, very reasonable for the holidays, in case of an emergency, or the occasional weekend visit.

The second factor to consider is what I will be teaching. My placement from TFA is Secondary English. At first I was a bit disappointed, as I hoped to teach Pre-K or elementary school. The more I thought about it, though, I realized that my placement really is the best option. Secondary includes grades 7-12 Reading or English. With my Journalism background and love for books, I think TFA knew more about me than I did. Sure, I love children, especially little ones, but I could really make an impact in high school as well. I edit essays for my friends, little sister, and myself. Not to mention my experience as a First Year Seminar Peer Mentor helping out with the transition to writing for college. I offer to edit any essay (24 hours before deadline) to all of my classes. I’ve done quite a bit of writing the last four years. See here for some of my work from college. While these are communications projects, I’ve become really comfortable writing for fun and writing in a journal as well, particularly when I’m stressed. I had some great English teachers in high school at RULH, and I loved my English/Literature courses here at Otterbein. I really think I can make a difference here, and enjoy my work. Sure, I’ll have to grade a couple thousand essays by the end of my time with TFA, I know it will be worth it!

The third factor that weighs on me is what happens after my TFA experience, and how that relates to my long-term career goals. I am struggling with the decision to leave behind what I have worked for in my communications and public relations work for such a long time. The two-year commitment with TFA is reassuring in that I have a direction and purpose. On the other hand, it’s difficult to wrap my mind around standing in front of a classroom teaching English rather than in an office creating campaigns and strategic plans. I am becoming more accustomed to the idea, but I think it’s going to take a little while to get used to. I was talking to a mentor on campus about my decision, and she reminded me of one of the huge advantages of Teach For America, the alumni network. Not only will I be supported throughout my TFA journey, but I will also be connected with thousands of diverse, committed, passionate former corps members in a variety of fields. If I’m still as passionate about education reform in two years as I am now, and I foresee even more of a commitment, then working for Teach For America is high on my list of dream jobs as well. “The sky is the limit!” my mentor exclaimed, and I tend to agree with her.

How It Works

When I explain that I’ve been offered a potential teaching position as a public relations major, I get lots of questions. Hopefully I can answer some of those questions here, but please visit the TFA website for more information about how committed individuals can get involved.

Q. How are you qualified to teach students?

A. As I understand it, I will be certified with a provisional license upon completing my degree, passing the PRAXIS test, following all TFA hiring procedures such as a background check, etc. Even though the provisional license is only for two-years, I will have the opportunity to take courses and workshops and earn my teaching certificate in the state of Kentucky if I choose to do so. Also, this summer I will take part in a five-week Summer Intensive Program that literally shoves me in front of a classroom to teach summer school in the morning and work with curriculum development and lesson plans in the afternoon. It’s nearly everything one needs to know shoved into just over a month. That’s not to say I will ever be prepared enough on Day 1, but I’m going to do my best to soak up all I can.

Q. Why Teach for America?

A. That’s a great question, and one I get most often. I’ll reference my previous post for the response. But I will add that my mom is an educator. She’s been teaching high school mathematics for 26 years, and I have had a unique perspective on the education system my entire life. I know how hard teachers try to do their best, but I know they can only do so much in a broken system that continues to perpetuate more of the same over innovation, success and change. Always one to do my part, I think that my gifts and abilities will allow me to help make a difference both in the community I serve as well as to the education system as a whole.

Q. Isn’t it scary to move into a new place and a new career field?

A. YES! But I’m familiar with it’s like to grow up in Appalachia, and I know I can empathize with a lot of the situations that I may see in the school I am placed in. After four years in a university residence hall, moving out on my own is actually one of the things I am most excited about, and I look forward to living an actual adult life rather than a collegiate adult life. As for the new career field, even though I still go back and forth sometimes, I am so excited for this challenging, difficult, crazy, exciting opportunity. I think I can do this. I know I can do this!

What Now?

It’s all down to the wire. I am to give Teach For America my final decision by January 23rd, and I will definitely update my followers here as well. For my final semester at Otterbein, along with finishing my Honors Thesis Project, one or two courses for my degree, and possibly a couple of education classes for preparation, I will continue to be a Resident Assistant and active in my community. I am beyond blessed to have a phenomenal support system both here at college and at home through my family, friends, and church family. I know that I serve a God that has a plan and will lead me through anything as long as I rely on Him. And I plan to do just that.

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