Here’s the Skinny on the NYC Teaching Fellows Interview Event
December 13, 2011 1 Comment
The fact is…there were no surprises. After much waiting and Christmas-Eve-like anticipation…I have finally completed the New York Teaching Fellows interview “event.” And when they say “event,” they aren’t joking! This is not your typical interview. Thank God! Here, I’d like to share my impressions and offer some ideas, for those of you who will be interviewing in the future, to help you prepare for the event. First, my impressions.
It’s hard not to notice the bird droppings peppering the stairs leading into Washington Irving High School (where the event was held), my guess is that not many kids loiter on the front stairs before and after school! Walking into the building was a wholly different experience. This past Saturday morning, the orchestra was practicing in the auditorium on the ground floor, which was filled not only with its rich music but also with gorgeous murals and beautiful architectural details. I thought to myself, “Wow…this feels like a place that fosters learning. I would feel inspired….” It turns out, appearances can indeed be deceiving, that same morning the NYTimes published an article in which Washington Irving was identified as one of the 19 added to the city’s list of schools to be closed. As it goes, last year only 48% of Washington Irving’s seniors graduated.
This bittersweet intersection of idealism and passion for teaching and learning with the absolute state of emergency confronting students, teachers, and other stakeholders in public education and the grim realities associated with that status quo permeated–for me–the entire interview process. However, I must admit, by the end of the day I felt more determined, more inspired, and downright hellbent on doing my part to effect positive change. But. I. Am. So. Humble. What I mean is…I know that this is not such an easy task, that we (I don’t know if I’ll be selected to be a NYC Teaching Fellow but here I’ll imagine I will be chosen ;-)) will not know what it means to work in the highest needs schools with the kids who are most at risk and “hard to teach” until we are there, in the moment, doing it. But, dammit, I cannot bear the thought of NOT making my best effort to reach as many young people as I can and I am already praying for the strength, insight, and smarts to do a consistently good job.
After milling around a bit in the lobby and chatting with a few “fellow potential Fellows,” we were invited to head up to the third floor, where the interview event would take place. Once there, I noticed the walls were filled with posters about testing, which listed goals “achieve at least 75% on regents exam” and to pass the exam each year. Suitably, the interview event began with a test: a 30-minute math assessment. It’s been ages since I’ve filled in bubbles on a scantron sheet with a number 2 pencil! Being citizens of the United States of Mathphobia, there is much nervousness about such assessments. It seems that many candidates worry about what they will find on this test. The NYCTF website fairly describes the assessment as one that a candidate really need not prepare for–as one might for the GRE or GMAT for example. The math itself is very easy–between 4th and 6th (if even) grade levels. The structure of the test is a bit different though.
Here’s the deal: The questions are meant to approximate a situation in which a teacher is presenting mathematical concepts or problems and asking students to carry out the appropriate procedures. The teacher expects x but finds that some students have done y or z. The test is to determine which approaches are valid and which are invalid. Should you prepare for this test and if yes how? My suggestion is this: If you suffer from stereotype threat (you belong to a group that supposedly sucks at math and the mere mention of the word causes you to temporarily lose 50 IQ points), then do thirty minutes of math each day before your interview AND (most importantly) remind yourself that you ARE NOT SCARED OF MATH. Get over it. Mathphobia is a contagious condition that you do NOT want to pass on to students.
After the math assessment, the candidates join the group they were assigned to, upon registration at the event, in classrooms throughout the building. Two current NYC Teaching Fellows work with each group of candidates. My group was made up of six people (counting moi). The first order of business: We each presented our five-minute teaching sample. Holy cow, five minutes goes by super fast. Only one of the group finished in less than five minutes…and I don’t think that was such a great thing. As the NYCTF website suggests: It’s a great idea to practice your five-minute lesson in front of friends, family, or anyone else who will listen. There really aren’t any surprises to this component of the interview. Everyone in my group brought in materials to accompany their lessons–so you might want to keep that in mind. Notably, everyone I met at the interview event was smart, engaged, and collegial–this made the entire process fun and not at all nerve-wracking. This warmth and collegiality was especially helpful during this part of the event. In fact, it was deeply inspiring and I felt more motivated to become a NYCTF by the end of the day.
Next, we took a short break while our evaluators (I forget the term they used to identify their role in the process) set up the room for our group activity. When we returned to the room, we were asked to sit around the table and read over the instructions for our group activity. We were presented with a list of issues at a particular school and our task–as teachers at the school–was to discuss those issues and come up with a plan to address them. We were given twelve minutes to discuss the issues as a group and we were then required to present a three-minute pitch to the principal and vice-principal (played by our evaluators). The advice is this: Don’t dominate the conversation but also make sure that you contribute, that is–don’t be a fly on the wall! The dynamic in this activity will obviously be influenced by the personalities in your group. We had a cool group but I noticed that many in the group were less cognizant of the fact that it was a GROUP activity and more focused on asserting (or piling on) as many ideas as they could. I would suggest working hard to strike a good balance between actively listening and actively contributing input. This is the time to illustrate your capacity to listen and collaborate rather than talk non-stop and dominate!
The three-minute presentation was a bit clumsy for our group for two reasons: We got so caught up discussing the issues facing our school that we did not take one minute, or even thirty seconds, to discuss how we would divvy up the presentation among ourselves, and we had an individual in our group who tended to dominate (this, I think, may have been an expression of nervous on her part…she was receptive when I whispered to her, “We need to give everyone a chance to contribute”). Don’t be shy to politely assert yourself within the group! Remember, this is an assessment of how you work in and with a group as well as how you operate individually.
We were next asked to provide a written response to two different prompts. Typically, I do very well with written assessments but I think by this point in the day–even though I was enjoying the process–I was a bit brain fried! It is usually very easy for me to write–and I LOVE writing–but for some reason, I felt much less fluent than usual as I was responding to these prompts. Nonetheless, I do think I did okay. We had only 15 minutes (total) to respond to the prompts. No time for drafting outlines!
FINALLY, the one-on-one interviews–the last step in the process. Our group was divided in half so that each evaluator would interview three candidates. During the one-on-one interview, I was asked to accept feedback on my five-minute lesson sample, incorporate that feedback, and re-deliver the first minute of the lesson. The rest of the interview flew by. Honestly, the only interviews I have ever enjoyed–in the sense that I feel at home, natural, and at ease–are those related to education. This was no exception–it’s easy for me to interview in this context because I am so passionate about teaching and learning and about teaching and learning at-risk students in particular. Having said that, I won’t know for four to six weeks whether I will be chosen to be a NYC Teaching Fellow. Fingers crossed!!
And for those of you who are gearing up for your own NYCTF interview: Good luck! Have fun! And, DEFINITELY bring some food and water with you. It’s a LONG day!
On the fence about whether or not you should teach? Consider this.
Also, if you search around the blog you will find a few other articles about my experience with NYCTF. Some were written as I was going through that application process, and others while in the thick of it. Here are a few you might be interested in checking out: Tips for Future Fellows and Planning to Visit Schools in NYC.