After making the decision to pursue a position with Teach for America, I started the application process. As most of you are aware, the application and selection process for Teach for America is quite thorough. Here are my general experiences with the process.
The written application is thorough, but not terribly burdensome. You must include a resume and submit two references. I personally believe that the references are an important piece of the application process. Choose them thoughtfully. As a professional, I selected a law firm partner for whom I worked. I also serve as the chair of the board of directors of a nonprofit organization, and I selected one of my board members as my other reference. I chose references who I hoped would emphasize my hard work, ambition, drive, and passion at work and in my community. References must submit a pretty thorough evaluation, so be sure to choose people who will take it seriously and be thoughtful in their consideration of you. Also, be sure you choose people who know you well enough to address all areas of inquiry and provide them with information about TFA so they can address specifically how you would be a good fit for the organization. Finally, you must submit a written essay, answering questions propounded by TFA. I think it is challenging to just answer the questions–I think some of us are drawn to trying to make our writing more profound or to talk about something other than what the questions request, so my advice would be to answer the questions thoroughly, but succinctly. The question will probably not ask for your philosophy of life, but will be much more specific. You will have the opportunity to weave information that lets the reader know who you are into your answer, while still remaining on topic.
After submitting the application, some people are asked to participate in a telephone interview. Others are invited directly to the final interview. In the time you are awaiting the final interview, you will be required to submit additional information. Start early. Some of this information may take some time to obtain, especially if you have been out of school for some time. You will have to submit official transcripts from all degree-granting institutions you attended. You will also be required to list each and every class you took while you attended, including course number and grade. Most of this information is on your transcript. You will also need to submit detailed GPA information, which can be time consuming to track down, especially if GPA systems have changed at your institutions over the years. I was in school from nine to fifteen years ago. GPA systems have changed a number of times through the years, so I had some research and explaining to do on my application. You will also be required to submit your preferences for geographical location and grade/subject interest. You are also required to complete a brief online activity.
The final interview is the part about which most people stress. My final interview involved a group of ten to twelve people at a local business office. We were in a board room for most of the day. In the morning, we started by giving our sample teaching assignments. TFA requires each candidate to prepare a five-minute teaching assignment on the topic of the candidate’s choice. It can be geared to any age group. In my group, topics ranged from how to address an envelope to complex physics. Candidates who were not teaching served as the students for the other candidates. My sample teaching plan involved sentence structure and passive and active voice. Most, if not all, presentations were highly interactive. Candidates used lots of props and handouts. I used a handout (nothing fancy–sentences on a sheet of paper) and relied on question/answer type interaction. Biggest piece of advice–five minutes goes by very quickly. Don’t be too ambitious with your objective. Practice your lesson in advance and be sure you can accomplish your objective in five minutes. Time is very strictly monitored. The atmosphere during our teaching assignments was very collegial. Candidates were very engaged and supportive of each other.
After that, there was a group exercise in which candidates are monitored as they work together to address an issue with which they are presented. Then, there is a brief written assessment. The day closes with individual interviews. The interviews are exactly what you would expect. Be prepared. Read up on TFA. Know why you are applying and what you hope to accomplish.
I learned of my acceptance via e-mail on the day they said that decisions would be announced. With your acceptance, you are notified of your geographical placement, as well as your subject matter and grade. You are given some time to decide whether to accept your assignment. I was assigned to middle grades science and social studies in Atlanta (this was later changed to middle or high school social studies or political science). I accepted, and the journey began!