The Very Spring and Root

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

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going for it

BTR Acceptance… Running GTalk Commentary

me: i have the BTR acceptance form up
sort of just staring at it
Sent at 12:50 PM on Wednesday

Amy: hah, well you have a few days that you can just stare at it

me: no, i dont need to stare at it
there is no further information i need
in my heart i already know
its just getting my brain to press the button
Sent at 1:20 PM on Wednesday

me: so….
i just turned my brain off and pressed yes
Sent at 1:35 PM on Wednesday

Amy: B-)

me: so i turned my brain back on and its just going ohshitohshitohshit
Sent at 1:38 PM on Wednesday

me: AMY
Sent at 1:44 PM on Wednesday

Amy: 😀
you just made a brave choice to improve the world
it will be difficult, painful, terrifying, wonderful and deeply gratifying
Sent at 1:52 PM on Wednesday

me: /gulp
Sent at 1:55 PM on Wednesday

me: i must be insane
ohhhhhh shit
Sent at 2:07 PM on Wednesday

Quote  Comment

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

-Shakespeare, Julius Caesar IV.3

BTR Selection Day Debrief

So, BTR Selection Day was amazing. Took a bus into Dorchester, a very working class neighborhood in south Boston. Here I am obviously lost and wearing a suit. People were very friendly though, struck up some great conversations.

Checked in at the Burke High School, during a normal school day so wading through a sea of students, and found my pod… Pod 6, HS Science candidates. I was very impressed by the caliber of my podmates… a computer scientist with a minor in math from Harvard… a U Michigan neurobiology major… a rising biomedical researcher… you get the idea. A very humbling meet-and-greet.

The founder/director of BTR greets us, a former math teacher in BPS himself. A bit rambling, but very motivational speech.

Group activities are up first, where we are given a sets of incomplete personal and academic information on a student case study… as a team of teachers it is our job to debate and conclude on what is going on and what our pathway forward should be. All the while the observers are hovering and scribbling notes… no pressure.

Then sample lessons. Pod 6 is invited into the classroom, 11th grade chemistry, urban public high school….  The lessons go well though, and I think mine did very well. I had restructured my Kepler lesson to be more student-inquiry-based and participatory, drawing multiple analogies to similar systems, and designed to guide the students to forming their own conclusions. They got it. And more, they seemed really hooked by the end. It felt so good.

20 minutes for lunch. Brief socializing with potential future colleagues while wolfing down sandwiches.

Two separate interviews, one focused on on personal qualifications related to the application/resume, and the second apparently on philosophy of education and awareness of contemporary issues in American public education.

A content assessment, testing basic knowledge of the subject and a 30-min free response: “Design an experiment to teach the principle of conservation of linear momentum. Identify the equipment, process, data to be collected, analysis procedure, and learning outcomes.”

Finally, a writing assessment, asking us to use information from the pre-reading to write a persuasive essay defending one of several approaches to teaching science. Essays will be evaluated on structure, logic, use of data available, and indicators of strong integrated thinking and leadership potential.

So, a very exhausting but exciting day… overall impression was that it went very well for me, but we’ll see… I’ll hear back in a week, January 20th.

Made sure to sample the local cuisine, particularly what the natives call “cuppachawdah widda beah”. Delicious of course.

Icing on the whole trip: the following day I didn’t have to get to the airport until early evening. I made it to the JFK presidential library and museum… among other inspirational points, the multiple exhortations to service of an ideal, a social good, a higher calling… definitely put a cap on it. Bought three books, and flew home.

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.

Why Not? Apply Anyway.

So… that’s basically what I’m thinking. Criticisms of TFA as an organization aside, from the research I’ve done, it does seem to be the most direct path from working professional to teaching in a high-need area. Going the “traditional” route means going back to school and doing a degree in education. And further, going the alternative route to certification by directly hiring on with a school district seems to be a non-starter… as cold as it sounds, it seems like programs with the political clout of TFA are the only way to get into districts that are laying off on the whole.

There are similar programs, such as Math for America or The New Teacher Project, but I’m not sure either of these is a better choice. For one thing, I would want to teach science, not math necessarily (and anyway my grades in pure math, while good, would probably not compete in a program focused exclusively on the subject).  MFA also requires at least a year of going back to school and a five-year commitment. TNTP appears to be the exact same organization as TFA, except with a different name and a focus on particular cities over a national program. (Probably not-so-incidentally, TNTP was founded by notable TFA alumna Michelle Rhee.)

Hey school districts: If you are so hurting for experienced STEM professionals to consider teaching as a career, but don’t like the incursion of external non-profits, then how about a nice “STEM PROFESSIONALS: CLICK HERE FOR OUR FAST-TRACK ENTRY PROGRAM!” button that would help this along?

So, I started a TFA application. I’m going for it. Haven’t decided yet if I truly want to do it, but there is no harm in going through the application process just to see what will happen. Initial online application due October 26th, several follow-up steps come after depending on how far you get, and I would know my admission status and where/what I would be teaching by January 17. I would then have until January 30 to decide whether or not to accept.

IF I accept, I see this going one of three ways:

  1. I love it. Well great, now I have a teaching credential and experience in the classroom, I could take my credential and go to another school or stay put and keep fighting the good fight where I end up. This would be the intended outcome of accepting: long-term teaching career.
  2. I hate it, or at least don’t love it, and want to return to engineering or a technical field. Well great, 2 years of teaching isn’t going to erase my Bachelors and Masters in Aerospace Engineering, 5-year research stint at a NASA center, and 8 publications.
  3. I hate it, or I at least don’t love it, and want to do something else entirely different. Well, the above technical qualifications, former civil service, leadership experience, teaching credential and experience. and a Masters in Education (possible in most TFA deployments)… sounds like I could go many places with that. Education policy? Research/science policy? Run for public office? Work for a think tank? Lead somewhere else in civic engagement?

I mean, why not, really? Life is short… I’ve got one shot to experience the world and make a lasting positive impact on it. Is spending the next 40 years in engineering the best use of what I have to give?