The Very Spring and Root

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

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December 2011

Additional Warm Regards

Dear Nalin,

This email serves as a confirmation of your registration for BTR Selection Day on Wednesday, January 11th at the Burke High School in Dorchester. We’re looking forward to seeing all middle and high school finalists then!

Please find below important information about Selection Day, including how and what to prepare in advance; we recommend that you print this email for reference.

I. Schedule

•   All candidates must report by 8:30 for morning check-in. We will distribute name tags and schedules at this time.
•   Science candidates will finish by 3:40

Coffee and breakfast in the morning and a light lunch in the afternoon will be provided to all candidates. You are welcome to bring any food/snacks that are easy to carry with you during the day. Should you require special accommodations due to food allergies, please contact us so that any necessary space arrangements can be made.

II. Location and directions

The Burke high school is located at 60 Washington street in Dorchester, MA.

Please see the above link for a Google map of the area as well as a link to MBTA directions. Because street parking is limited in the area and we are expecting 60 visitors for this event, we strongly encourage you to take public transportation. A number of bus lines (including the 22, 23 and the 28) have stops close to the Burke, please use the MBTA trip planner to plan your trip. The registration table will be set up right inside the building’s main entrance.

III. What to expect

Finalists will be grouped in pods according to grade level and content area, and will follow a schedule of activities during the day including:

•   Group Problem Solving Activity
•   Mini-Lesson with Rehearsal*
•   Individual Interviews
•   Content/Writing Assessment*
*Please see the following section on what to prepare in advance of Selection Day for additional information on how/what to prepare for the mini-lesson and the content/writing assessment.

IV. To prepare in advance of Selection Day

•   Please click here to download the guidelines/instructions for the mini-lesson you will prepare. Middle and high school science candidates will be teaching their mini-lessons in 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grade classrooms at the Burke High School. Priority for 9th grade classroom assignments will be given to Middle School finalists. We ask that you do some research and prepare what you think is appropriate and engaging for students in those grade levels at the school. If you plan to bring handouts, please make at least 30 copies.

•   In preparation for the writing assessment, science finalists are asked to read an article and watch a 14-minute video in advance of Selection Day. Please be prepared to write a reflective essay at Selection Day in response to questions based on the article and video. As you read the article, please take detailed notes. You may bring a marked-up/highlighted copy of the article and your notes to Selection Day for reference during the writing activity.  As you view the video, you should take notes on what the students and/or teacher say. Bring the notes on student and teacher talk with you to Selection Day.

o   Please click the following link to access and print the article: “Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say!” by Stephen C. Reinhart

o   Please click the following link to view the online video: “Building Viewpoints”

V. Dress/Attire

Dress is business casual, or “teacher attire.” Remember, you will be in school for a long day, so dress professionally yet comfortably.

VI. Reasonable Accommodations  

BTR actively seeks to create an inclusive service environment and will make reasonable accommodations to ensure that facilities are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Qualified individuals who would like to request reasonable accommodations at Selection Day may contact Cassandra Pagan at [] or [].

Thank you again for your commitment to becoming a great educator for the children of Boston.

Warm regards,

BTR Admissions Team

Dear Profile First Name,

Dear <<Profile First Name>> ,

Congratulations on behalf of the BTR Admissions Committee! You have been selected as a Finalist for the 2012-13 Cohort of the Boston Teacher Residency.

We invite you to interview at Selection Day on Thursday, January 11th at the Burke High School for the following content/grade: Science – HS Physics

Brief Overview of Selection Day:

Selection Day consists of a set of performance activities including group problem-solving, mini-lesson, and individual interviews as well as content and/or writing assessments. It is also an opportunity for you to spend a day in one of our host schools and meet members of the BTR community. Based on feedback and ratings from Selection Day, the Admissions Committee will select the residents for BTR Cohort 10. Final Decisions after Selection Day will be sent to you by 9pm on January 20th.

What happens next?

On or before December 21st, please use the following link to respond to our Selection Day Invitation (to log in, use the same username and password you used to log in to the online application).

On December 22nd, BTR Admissions will send an e-mail to registered finalists with instructions and more detailed information about what to expect and what to prepare for Selection Day.

Please do not hesitate to contact Kate Diedrick, BTR Admissions Associate, at [] or [], with any questions or concerns.

Please note:

BTR actively seeks to create an inclusive service environment and will make reasonable accommodations to ensure that facilities are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Qualified individuals who would like to request reasonable accommodations at Selection Day may contact Cassandra Pagan at [] or [].

We are excited to pursue your candidacy for the Boston Teacher Residency and look forward to meeting you soon.


BTR Admissions Team

Arne On Teacher Salaries and Standardized Tests

Below is my comment on an article posted to the blog entitled “Arne on Teacher Salaries and Standardized Tests“. There was much in the comment stream about how muchc teachers should make, comparisons to other professions, and the value of an education degree.

As a professional engineer in the process of (voluntarily) transforming into a K-12 educator, I hope I can add a hybrid perspective.

As a aerospace research engineer (federal), I started at $43,500 and advanced to roughly $80,000 in five years. This is not because of some arbitrary euro-centric preference, it is because of simple supply and demand. At the level of STEM understanding required to ensure our national security, economic vigor, modern infrastructure, and quality of life, there are simply not enough young people moving into the ranks to replace those retiring. Engineers, not defined by their degree but by those who can think creatively, rigorously analyze a system, and synthesize new innovations, are in very short supply; the demand for such people in our modern world is very high. I do not think I could say the same about literature. No disrespect intended, as I love literature and fully see its value in society, but the simple fact is that the skillset is not required in as large quantities right now.

I am aware that switching to a career education will probably mean a pay cut of 50-60%. This concerns me, but is not stopping me – I am, alas, a stubborn idealist. But for the general case, consider those who are similarly prepared as I am. Should those well-trained as engineers and scientists have to choose between a world of creative application of their talents, probable advancement, and job security, versus a world of low-pay, advancement and security based solely on tenure, and declining respect and creative freedom? If not, how can we structure education such that this comparison is more favorable? Because that is the comparison being made by graduates versus other professions.

Teaching *is* a profession, and a important one – indeed, the *most* important one, since it feeds all of the others. But it is also a unique one – unlike medicine, law, or engineering, proficiency in the subject matter and theory of practice are not enough to be effective. What gets missed in that analogy is that, while a surgeon with more training and experience will probably perform a better surgery, a teacher with more training and experience will not necessarily prompt better learning. I think we all have personal experiences to attest to that. What is unique about this profession is this: That children learn from people they love. They learn when the material is engaging and relevant. They learn when they can apply their own initiative and correlate it to success. Some of that can be taught, some if it can’t.

There is no way that an education major with a credential in math or science can bring as much content knowledge to the table as I can. Does that make me a better potential teacher? Not necessarily. Not by a long shot.

Teaching is a noble calling because it is the *only* one which directly professionalizes the intersection of people and ideas. This goes above and beyond subject matter competency. We should be reaching out to those in all fields who have these qualities, and incentivizing their consideration of teaching as a profession. Make it *the* selective pathway, an honor; that beyond their excellence in science, math, literature, history, theatre, engineering, or language, they also exhibit the much more in-demand talent than any of these of being able to connect their ideas with people. And then pay them commensurate to the field from which you plucked them.

Can performance in this quality be measured by standardized testing? Not in isolation no, and such a proposition is yet another dangerous deterrent to those in more open fields. But rote subject matter competency *is* important, when combined with the assurance that the student has developed the creative and analytical capacity to apply it. Know the equation – but also write a paragraph on why these quantities are related in this way. Know the scientific principle – but also explain to me what we know about the universe as a result. Know the name of the artistic movement – but also tell the world around you what we as a society failed to learn from it.

Does that require more time and resources? Definitely. But I think it is what is required for an increasingly knowledge-based world, one increasingly dependent on technologies, systems, and social structures which did not exist when the present education system was created. So that also means change, which in turn means both pain and opportunity. But if we fail in this, the whole nation fails. Education is too central a pillar to a strong republic; no such republic can hope to stand long with this pillar strained or broken.

Quick Update: TFA Final Interview

A quick update from Wednesday’s adventures. I can’t give too much detail on the format and content, due to a non-disclosure agreement, but here were some qualitative observations.

It was a very rigorous process for the final interview day. First up was the sample lesson.

The revised lesson plan went fantastically well, thanks to those who provided feedback. Making the geometric (instead of the mathematical, as I had originally intended) argument for Kepler’s 2nd law was much simpler to explain and much more intuitive. Everyone got it, and by my own (possibly biased) judgement I would say I was one of the top two lessons in the room.  Thanks for helping me to make that as strong as it could be!

We then went to a group activity, in which they set up scenarios for everyone and we were observed for our team interaction, leadership, and conflict resolution skills… after NASA FIRST this was a comfortable challenge.

Next up were two former corps members who spoke very frankly and openly about their experiences in TFA, after which there was a Q&A session. As usual I asked some pretty blunt questions (who invited *this* guy?) and was pleasantly surprised at how forthcoming and honest the answers seemed.

Lunch. Got to know the fellow “subjects” a little better. All very talented, motivated, positive, and idealistic. I felt kind of old though… the majority were undergrad freshouts, and a couple were masters students nearing their degrees.

Final one-on-one interview lasted about forty-five minutes. It was mostly asking me to expand on responses I had given to the online activity a few weeks back, clarification and expansion on my letter of intent and experience, and also a role play testing what I would have to term “improvisational persuasion under fire”. Kind of fun actually.

All in all, about a 5 hour process… ended exhausted but feeling great. My impression was that it went very well for me.

What’s next:

The TFA process is done, but they take quite awhile to process the whole ordeal. If accepted, they will let me know of assigned region, subject, and grade level on January 17th, after which I will have until January 30th to accept or decline. I did go in and change my assignment preference form to indicate that teaching physics or chemistry was more important to me than my geographical preferences. I hope that this action will further ensure that I am placed in a region of actual and high need should I choose to take the TFA route (if accepted).

I am still under consideration for the early admissions track into the Boston Teacher Residency. I will find out on December 14th if I made it to what they call Selection Day, which will be a similar day-long interview, sample lesson, team/leadership observation, reflective writing, etc on January 11th in Boston. A final decision will be sent out January 20th. BTR is without question the better alternative teacher preparation program, so I am still holding this as the preferable option.

I still haven’t decided completely on whether to do either, but I can say I’m very excited about the prospect of both. It’s been a strange and life-changing journey, often dipping into the highly personal in terms of what I value and my beliefs on the nature of education and society. The whole thing would be impossible without the support, feedback, letters of reference, and advice from several close friends, mentors, and colleagues throughout this whole process.