So, after months of preparation, an online application, and a telephone interview, Teach For America invited me to one final interview to see if I’m up to snuff for their teaching program. It was about 4-5 straight hours of presentations, group projects, and interestingly enough, a mock lesson that each one of us was supposed to conduct. There were ten other seniors in the room with me, besides the two young TFA instructors who were reviewing and taking notes on us, and I was amazed at how well we all did.

I spent a lot of time (4-5 hours) last night rehearsing and practicing for my lesson plan. I highly doubt that real teachers do it this way, but for a faux-teacher like myself, I found that writing down a script, and then reading it over and over again helped my memory retention for my chosen five-minute lesson plan, the “American System of Checks and Balances.” You might find this kind of silly, but before I went to bed last night I recorded myself reading my prepared lesson at a rate and pitch that I thought would be relaxing and measured, giving myself exactly 4 minutes, plus 1 minute to complete the quiz/worksheet that I had prepared for the 10 other students in my “classroom.”

Here’s a copy of the practice speech that I fell asleep listening to on repeat. Keep in mind that I was orienting the language to be suitable for 7th graders, and I had to try to get as much in within 5 minutes as possible. In the shower this morning, I read the lesson several times to the wall as the hot water hit me. I was so relaxed, so ready to go, so pumped at the thought of giving my presentation, that I found myself half-wishing I could give my lesson from the comfort of the shower. However, figuring that they probably wouldn’t rate that as “Business-Formal Attire” I suspected it wouldn’t go over too well, and I reluctantly exited, with plenty of time before the day’s 9:00AM scheduled start.

For comparative purposes, I had my recorder in suit breast pocket while I did my speech. You can obviously tell that being in front of people (especially being judged in front of people) makes my speech patterns a little flustered and nervous, something I’ve been working on correcting for a long time. I’ve gotten a lot better though; when I would do presentations in 4-H as a kid, sometimes stuttering would get the better of me, which rarely happens these days. Unfortunately, I didn’t budget my time as closely as I hoped, and I missed out on talking about “Judicial Independence” which I thought was particularly interesting in the years since the Bush v. Gore case. Didn’t get to show everyone my nifty worksheet that I designed either; ah well.

Following all of our lessons (which were great; it was like being in middle school all over again with all the simple handouts everyone got from everyone else) we had our face-to-face interview. My interviewer, Jessie, was very nice and really did a good job of encouraging me to just speak my mind on her questions, which ranged from my reactions to hypothetical school policies, previous experience in leadership roles within the Campus Antiwar Network and within the Division of Information Technology, and my goals as a teacher for TFA. She also reassured me that a lot of people go over their time a little bit (there were two others in my group besides me that did) – the main thing is just hearing how we comport ourselves in a public speaking situation.

In a few weeks, I should find out whether or not I passed and am an “official” TFA corps member! Listening to that audio transcription of myself, I wince a little bit, but I suppose everyone winces when they hear themselves give a speech that didn’t go anything but perfectly. All in all, it was a good day – I look forward to hearing TFA’s results!

UPDATE 4/22/08: Well, apparently TFA and I are not compatible, according to and this rejection email they sent me. 🙁 Sad, but I’m not upset with them; I know that they have an acceptance rate of 17% or something and they have to choose on talented candidates all the time. Besides, this will give me more time to hopefully focus on being the best possible candidate for Habitat For Humanity. I hope other people have better luck than I – and don’t forget to practice! 🙂

UPDATE 10/21/09: As this is my most popular blog entry by far, apparently there are a lot of you out there that want more information on the TFA final interview! Well, if you’ve read this far, you already know that I wasn’t accepted anyway, but I have some advice for you that I wish that I had known before I went in.

  1. Practice in front of an audience of your peers – in “costume”! I can’t emphasize this enough; it’s the big one. It’s one thing to practice in front of your housemates or your mirror or your dog, but it’s an entirely other thing when a bunch of people in business suits are staring expectantly at you, and you know they’re all after the same job you are. You need to be able to do this speech backwards and forwards, and in general, you should practice like your speech is 4 minutes long. Trust me, that extra minute will come from you pausing nervously, clearing your throat, and stuttering. Or maybe that was just me…
  2. Bring something cool to show off. Make yourself stand out. I liked the other presenters who brought M&M’s and used them to do counting exercises, or did biology of a dinosaur with a cheap little plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Remember when you were an elementary or middle school student and you really thought a teacher did something neat or unexpected? That’s what your interviewers are looking for – your peers to smile appreciatively and really be interested in your topic, not just you to run the presentation like you’re a CEO at a seminar.

Good luck, and thanks for making this blog post so popular! Even though I didn’t make it into TFA, I became a teacher for Iraqi refugees for a year, and now I teach Western students computer lessons. It’s funny the directions that life takes, and I sincerely hope that if you’re set on TFA, and you’ve made it this far to the final interview, that this is the job for you!