Teach for America (TFA) is a national teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach and to effect change in under-resourced urban and rural public schools. Featured below are five of the eight Cal State LA students selected for the 2017 TFA corps.
Name: Julianna Jimenez Degree: Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Science Graduation Date: May 2017
Where and what level will you be teaching next year? I will be moving to Cleveland, Ohio this summer where I will be spending the next two years teaching 10th-grade Chemistry. I am really excited for the challenge of teaching a subject that is often looked at as "hard" or "boring". Chemistry is actually a class I struggled with before college; but it took the right teachers to inspire me to challenge my predisposed beliefs, bring out my true potential, and ultimately pursue a degree in the sciences. I cannot wait to pay all the inspiration I received from my college professors forward and show my students that we all have the ability to manifest our hidden potentials.
Why did you apply for Teach for America? Upon presentation of Teach for America's missions, core values, and qualities they seek in candidates, I identified significantly and knew that the program was a right fit for me. I had originally planned to go straight to graduate school upon completing my undergrad and took all the necessary steps to prepare. Unfortunately, when the time came to submit my applications, I had a change of heart. I knew that I needed something more practical after college and could not fathom rushing into more schooling, just yet. Upon making his decision, I connected with Cassidy Alvarado in the NISFeP office and it was she that presented Teach for America and other fellowships to me. I had heard of fellowships and of TFA but never took the time to look into the programs. Upon research of all my fellowship matches, I knew that TFA was my calling and put all my effort into the application process.
What was the most challenging part of the application process? The most challenging part of the application process was feeling confident enough to submit the application. It is certainly not an application that can be done in one sitting. For me, I worked on the application over the course of a month. I would work on sections a little bit each day and frequently revisit sections making numerous improvements, especially in my resume and short answer responses. I ultimately felt confident enough to submit the application two days before the deadline but only after countless revision and help from my mentors and TFA staff.
What advice do you have for future applicants? I would say, first of all, ask for help! It was amazing the resources that were available to me from both the Cal State LA campus and the TFA staff. I reached out to as many people I could with education experience, and received their input in every step of my application process. Keeping organized also really helped me in getting to know the program and staying on top of all the components of the application process, as it is rather lengthy. To stay organized, I created a binder with all my personal documents, TFA related readings, and printouts of all my answers to the short answer application questions. After being invited to an interview, this binder served as my guide to everything I needed to know for my big day. It's funny, I tried to memorize a format for answering interview questions but during the day of the interview, I felt like it all went out the door. I recognize how this actually served me better, as I didn’t sound scripted and was truly able to show my true self. Ultimately, I attribute this to be the reason for my success in this entire process. In the words of the famous playwright Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”, being yourself is essential in anything you do.
What would people be surprised to know about you? I think people would be surprised to know that in middle and high school I struggled as a student. I graduated with a 2.4 GPA and upon graduation, I went the non-traditional route and enrolled in my local community college. My first years involved learning how to kick my old habits and taking various courses in order to find a field of interest. After a few years of taking general classes, I had developed a passion for science, nutrition, and community education. Ultimately, kicking my old habits, learning how to study, and finding my true passion enabled me to transfer to Cal State LA in 2015. I was able to complete my degree in two years. I never envisioned this day to come, but after a lot of hard work, determination, and patience, it has arrived. So be easy on yourself, take your time, and don't ever stop believing in your abilities.
Name: Arwen Jordan-Zimmerman Degree: Master of Arts in Sociology Graduation Date: May 2017
Why did you apply for Teach for America? I wanted to work in an organization that works for social justice and educational equality.
What was the most challenging part of the application process? This was the most enjoyable application process I have ever had the privilege of participating in. There were few unexpected challenges, and rarely did I feel unprepared or uninformed. However, I think the interview was the most challenging part for me. While I did extensive preparation, there was still an element of unknown about the face to face interview that it was difficult to account for completely.
What advice do you have for future applicants? Before you even begin the application, research TFA extensively. Make sure that you have a clear understanding of how your life and your beliefs have brought you to understand and want to work towards the mission of TFA. This understanding will guide you through the entire application and interview process.
What would people be surprised to know about you? As a child, I was severely dyslexic, and soon became convinced that the term ‘Dyslexic’ was chosen because it was the most difficult word anyone could find for dyslexic people to spell. In my spare time, I enjoy horseback riding and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Name: Bree Lacey Degree: Master of Arts in Philosophy Graduation Date: May 2017
Where and what level will you be teaching next year? I will be teaching in Las Vegas as a high school English teacher.
Why did you apply for Teach for America? My sister Abigail has applied for Teach for America late last year and she was the catalyst for me applying. I knew I wanted to be an educator but I felt torn as to pursue teaching higher education or a route in public education. My sister really gave me the encouragement to explore all my options and Teach for America ended up being the right fit for me.
What was the most challenging part of the application process? The most challenging part of the application process was definitely all the preparation of paperwork and deadlines, but if you’ve spent enough time at a university, then this is second nature. In my experience, it was and still is absolutely necessary to stay organized and on top of what is expected from you.
What advice do you have for future applicants? Some advice I have is the following: just apply! Even if you’re having reservations or not completely sure, even if you feel you might not be qualified, even if you didn’t major in education. Without my sister there to give me that nudge, I probably would not have applied because I was concerned I was “too qualified” having just graduated with my MA in Philosophy. The great thing about Teach for America is they recognize the value in bringing people together from diverse educational backgrounds. So if you’re thinking Teach for America might be a good fit for you, just apply and see what happens.
What would people be surprised to know about you? I think people are often surprised when they hear that I majored in philosophy. For one, it is often associated (rightly so) with old, dead, white men. I think people form associations of philosophy with quiet, meek thinkers who stare off into space for varying periods of time. I am quite the opposite; I am loud, outspoken, and militant in what I believe in.
Name: Nicole McCue Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science & Philosophy Graduation Date: May 2017
Where and what level will you be teaching next year? I am not sure where I will be teaching, but I have an interview at Los Angeles Unified School District. After that interview, my name and resume will be given to different schools, which will then begin to reach out to me. However, I have been assigned to teach elementary school special education students.
Why did you apply for Teach for America? I applied to Teach for America because I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives in low income community. I wanted to be “that” teacher that inspires there students to continue their education with a positive attitude, seeing it as an asset to one’s lives. I also want to help participate in decreasing the school to prison pipeline, hopefully encouraging more students to chase after a secondary education outside of high school.
What was the most challenging part of the application process? The application process had a lot of “what would you do in this situation” type questions. As I have never taught before, it was difficult to try to think like a teacher. Getting strong recommendations was also a challenge, because there were so many to choose from, but picking ones that would argue my case for being a good teacher took some thought and consideration.
What advice do you have for future applicants? Make sure you have a passion in wanting to change the lives of children and improve the communities around you. Teach for America looks for people who have strong leadership and communication skills, has a great academic standing, and has that fire for social change among children and poor communities. Teach for America’s mission is to reduce educational inequities by providing low-income students great teachers to encourage them to get more education and create change in their communities through that positive reinforcement.
What would people be surprised to know about you? People would be surprised to know that my majors are philosophy and political science, and that I am choosing to become a teacher instead of going to law school. I choose this path not for the money I could earn, but rather for the change I could create in communities. I felt that my impact as a teacher would be much greater compared to that of being a lawyer.
Name: Graciela Zapata Delgado Degree: Bachelor of Arts in English, Single Subject Credential Graduation Date: December 2016
Where and what level will you be teaching next year? I have been assigned as an English Secondary Teacher in the Los Angeles region, where I hope to be teaching this upcoming school year. I still don’t have a specific school site, but I look forward to teaching wherever I am placed.
Why did you apply for Teach for America? My initial intention to apply was driven by my personal desire to become a teacher; yet, the final decision was made after I learned about Teach for America’s vision of educational equity in low-income communities.Coming from a low-income community, I witnessed the challenges faced by teachers and students who were restricted by overcrowded rooms and lack of resources. However, I also experienced the greatest acts of generosity and dedication granted by those few teachers who went beyond what was expected of them to make a difference in the lives of their students, my own included. Because of my experiences, I know that teachers have a great impact on the lives of their students, especially for those in low-income communities. I applied to Teach for America because I strongly believe that they stand for the change that I experienced and the change I want to see in my community.
What was the most challenging part of the application process? Perhaps the most challenging part of the application process was keeping up with deadlines. I applied during the last weeks of Winter Semester, which meant that I was already short on time because of school finals and projects. I felt a little overwhelmed with the application and deadlines; however, I was blessed to have an amazing recruiter, Kristy, who guided me throughout the process. After receiving the invitation for an interview, the process went rather quickly. Although deadlines were and still are overwhelming, I am blessed to have the same amount of support from Kristy and the other TFA staff members who are getting me through those challenging moments.
What advice do you have for future applicants? I would encourage future applicants to prepare as much as possible by meeting with a recruiter and doing research on their own. To challenge themselves by becoming active leaders inside and outside of campus as part of their preparation to apply. Lastly, I would encourage them not to give up on their goals, anything worth having is worth the fight.
What would people be surprised to know about you? People would be surprised to know that I became an English major after I earned a D on my first college English paper. After receiving my paper, I spent hours staring at the red markings on the margins of the paper and wondering what I did wrong. One of the marked notes read, “This is an academic paper, not a creative writing assignment.” I couldn’t understand what that meant. I was given a chance to make revisions, but every time the paper would come back with more red markings. In the middle of my frustration, I told myself that if I passed that class with an A, then I would declare myself an English major. After several visits to the writing center and the Professor’s office, I finally realized that there is a major difference between an academic paper and a creative writing piece. By the end of the semester I earned an A and found an interest in writing and literature. I still save that paper as a reminder that challenges are meant to make us better, not to block us.