The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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October 2011

Letter of Intent, Draft 3

Here is another take on my previously posted draft letter of intent. Thanks to Vihangi, Amy, Aleks, and Julia for the proofreads and feedback.

I seek to join Teach for America in order to directly address our nation’s most dire of inequities: the disparity in the quality of accessible education across social demographics. I know that through Teach For America, I cannot directly ease poverty or fix broken families. I can, however, enable these students to break out of the prison of social class, to which they have been relegated by fate and forgotten by their nation. In a world of systemic racial and socio-economic divides, quality education is the only equalizer – the only pathway that can empower individuals of any background to reach their potentials.

As the successful child of immigrants to this country, I have truly lived the American Dream. Yet, I know that I was fortunate to have been born under two very serendipitous circumstances. My parents were educated and were likely headed for successful careers before coming here; and while my family has never been what I would term wealthy, neither have I ever been in need of the foundations on which individual merit can actually build success. Many students across our nation lack even these basic elements – such as stable families, freedom from hunger and violence, and a supportive community. As my awareness of these injustices has grown, my individual success has taken on new context: I realize that it is time for me to pay it forward, in return for all that this country has enabled me to achieve.

As a NASA research engineer, I have been honored to work with some of the world’s most creative, passionate, and intelligent people on the cutting-edge engineering challenges of today: energy, environment, transportation, and exploration. Addressing these challenges requires viewing science as something much grander and more beautiful than a dry sequence of memorized facts. Science is applied curiosity – powered by wonder, and expressed through the language of mathematics. I intend to instill this perspective by setting a personal example of hardworking grit and a curious mind. I would also make full use of my experience to bring an array of practical applications to the forefront of my pedagogy.

As an engineer, I know that any credible metric of success must be rooted in quantifiable results. However, in addition to increasing performance on standardized exams, there are qualities which are far more critical to our nation’s scientific competitiveness. The true test of the scientist is to apply creative innovation to solving challenging, integrated problems. Evidence of these qualities in my students would be my personal metric of success. I would strive daily to cultivate them in my students by incorporating critical thinking, oral and written communication, and creative design in my lessons and grading metrics to the greatest degree possible. I know that an integrated, creative, and applied approach to science and mathematics will inspire the individual success of my students and provide them with opportunities to meet the local, national, and global technical challenges of tomorrow.



And… Steve Jobs for the Tipping Point

The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.



New Data on TFA

Education Week recently posted the results of a study by Phi Delta Kappan on Teach for America and the nebulous debate over teacher retention. The article pretty much speaks for itself, so I’m not going to rehash anything here. Some surprising findings for both sides of the raging argument.

The one paragraph I’d just like to quote, however, reemphasizes why I just don’t care about the debate one way or the other:

These findings show that Teach For America teachers are far from being exclusively short-term in their intentions or actions. Some appear to use the program as a path to an extended career in teaching. They may choose TFA as a way to bypass longer preparation programs, licensing requirements, or the bureaucratic obstacles associated with landing a teaching job, especially in a large, urban district. They also may have wanted the status and camaraderie that come with becoming TFA corps members. Whatever their reasons, it seems clear that a considerable proportion of those in the sample expected to make a longer-term commitment to teaching from the start.

(Emphasis mine.)



Good Sign

Status  Comment

I introduced my parents to the possibility of TFA as a remote option, and they did not explode.





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