Starting a Career in Education with Teach For America

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The early morning sunlight floods the field outside of Simone’s small house. She looks across the hushed green grass of the countryside to the school on the other side. For a moment everything is quiet. She takes a sip of her coffee knowing that this calm will not last long; these early mornings are the only relaxing moments she has in her day.

Still, she can’t wait to get the ball rolling. No matter how hectic and demanding her schedule as a teacher with Teach for America is, she can’t wait to see her students. Bring on the day!

Education:

When Simone Weber graduated from high school, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. After spending a year at the University of California Santa Cruz, she realized that it wasn’t where she wanted to be. Returning home to Hawai’i she began her studies at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and really found her footing.

She graduated with a degree in Cultural Anthropology with a certificate in Ethnic Studies.

Now she is teaching 6th and 7th grade English Language Arts (ELA) at Kohala Middle School on the northwest part of the island of Hawai’i.

“I love it here. It’s rural and quaint with a serious ‘paniolo’ (cowboy) grit. The culture is so rich and the students teach me such fascinating things about this place every day.”

Why TFA?

During her junior year at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Simone was asked to be an Ethnic Studies Teacher’s Assistant (TA). At the same time she decided to take an Educational Psychology course just for fun and found that she absolutely loved it.

She wasn’t even aware of it at first, but her interest in teaching was growing.

“I would stay up late at night grading papers and I would be in tears because some of my students were unable to express their ideas in writing. I didn’t know what to do,” she says thinking back to when she was a TA for her Ethnic Studies class.

After one of these late nights, a friend recommended that she check out a presentation on Teach for America Hawai’i. He encouraged her to explore it as an option because she loved teaching and really had nothing to lose.

It ended up being the perfect opportunity to start her career in education with Teach for America.

What Was the Application / Interview Process Like?

The application process was not easy. It extended over a period of three months and consisted of a résumé submission, answering multiple surveys, and writing a letter of intent.

As for the interview process, Simone was surprised by how fun it actually was. She was incredibly nervous during the days she spent preparing for it. But, when the actual interview day came around, she approached it as if it was her real first day as a teacher and brought as much passion into the interview as she would into her classroom.

Simone is also thankful to have had a network of supportive TFA alumni who were willing to help her out every step of the way.

What Is a Typical Day Like For Simone?

Simone is quick to warn that “a teacher’s life is a busy one.”

She wakes up at least 30 minutes before the first bell rings (which she can hear from her bedroom). Then she gets dressed.

“I put on clothes that are appropriate and yet still totally my style. One of the best parts of my job is that there’s no business attire necessary!”

Then she brews some coffee and grabs some breakfast before heading out across the beautiful green field overlooking the Kohala Coast that separates her home from her classroom. She starts her school day with daily announcements to her “silly 7th grade homeroom class” and then checks in to see how they’re doing with their homework assignments.

By then the next bell has rung and it’s time to start teaching. She teaches six classes a day, ranging from Honors ELA to Inclusion ELA (a class of general and special needs students).

In her day-to-day lessons, Simone works to assign papers and projects that hold deep meaning and promote learning amongst the sea of Common Core State Standards that she’s mandated to teach. She also works to implement layers of cultural relevance, nationally competitive content, and educational investments.

Simone is passionate about her work and loves her time spent with her students (even with all the middle-school humor and awkward dances to chaperone)!

Whether goofing off with her students or going over their assignments, she loves that she gets to work with 94 of the most amazing young souls she’s ever encountered in her life.

“My students make every difficult day so worth it.”

Scattered throughout her school days are also meetings with administrators, crazy coworker moments, as well as making time to communicate with parents and community members.

After all of that, Simone heads home. She would like to say that most of her school days end in a work-out or hike (there’s one located five minutes down the road), but she must admit that she usually ends up in bed watching her favorite TV shows. After a quick television break, she’ll grab something to eat and work on her grad school and/or TFA assignments before grading papers and preparing her lesson plans.

Even when she finishes her work, she often spends the moments before she falls asleep thinking about her students and worrying about how to provide them with the best education and environment she can.

Simone is incredibly thankful for the support system she has in TFA. She gets to work alongside other educators who are just as passionate about education as she is. Her mentor is always just a phone call away with ready encouragement and help so that Simone can bring her students to new heights.

“I really appreciate that the program got someone like me (who was interested in teaching but felt it was too late) into the classroom.”

What Are Some Challenges Simone Faces in Her Job?

The amount of work is definitely not easy, but Simone realizes that this isn’t due to the TFA program—this is the life of a teacher. It can be difficult to find time for yourself (especially with extra work-related programs like Professional Development Saturdays), but that’s a part of becoming the best teacher possible.

What Advice Does Simone Have For Others Interested in TFA?

“I think the most important advice I can offer is to make sure that you’re really passionate about the work of TFA. It is not for the weak-hearted. I am constantly telling myself these three things:

1) Make time for yourself to decompress and de-stress.

2) Have patience with yourself, your students, and the system (TFA and the education system).

3) Bring passion, love, and energy into each moment you have in the classroom.”

Homework time! Wondering if Teach For America is really right for you? Simone found TFA alumni living in Hawai’i to give her the inside scoop and guide her through the application and teaching process. Ask some alumni in your area if they would do an informational interview with you. Also, check out our posts on Katie Mazer and Amber Moore to hear about other TFA experiences.

P.S. Simone found her love of teaching during her time as a Teacher’s Assistant. If possible, ask if you can help out a former professor. Or see if there are short-term student teaching programs like there are at Reed and The Johnston Center for Integrative Learning at the University of Redlands. If it’s something you love, then you might want to consider starting a career in education with Teach for America.

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