Teach for America - A View from Inside
Career Center (CC): What were you thinking as graduation approached and your time at Cal was ending?
Neena Dass (ND): Honestly, I was getting nervous because I felt a lot of pressure to know what I was doing. My parents weren't pressuring me, rather I was pressuring myself. I wanted to know what I was going to do.
I thought that going to grad or law school would offer me some security. However, I knew it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. I realized I had to step back, slow down, and reflect before I made any long-term decisions. Otherwise, I'd just be collecting another degree with no real idea of how to use it.
CC: What did you end up doing?
ND: For two years, I was a Teach for America corps member, teaching 9th and 10th grade English at Oakland High School. Now I do outreach to recruit this year's new corps members (the positions are full-time and paid).
CC: What was it like?
ND: As a teacher, I would wake up in the morning, work out, and then begin my real work day. I'd get to school around 7:00am. I'd start writing material for that day: the agenda, the objective, the homework, notes, etc. Students would start to trickle in and hang out in my classroom.
I taught three 9th grade classes and two 10th grade classes. I never wanted to be a teacher but what I realized was that I was leading my classroom. I was up at the board teaching about great literature and generating class discussion about certain topics. I wanted my students to see the connection between real-world experience and education.
In addition, students would come in to get help at lunch and after school. Sometimes they just needed a space to do homework. I was tough and didn't allow students to hang out in my room to talk; if they wanted to stay, they were required to work. I provided snacks in case they were hungry, and they had their own library space. In a way it reminded me of Heller Lounge on campus.
CC: What were the rewards and challenges of your work?
ND: I loved seeing a student who was struggling at the beginning of the school year excel and get an A in my class by the end of the year. That was so rewarding and so meaningful. I also loved meeting my students' parents, seeing how much they cared, and how they took me in as a part of their own family.
The most challenging aspect I faced was the day-to-day grind. I had to get used to being on my feet from 9-5. It was also frustrating to see other teachers at my school who didn't teach and just passed out worksheets as lesson plans. I wanted to see my students excel and receive an excellent education in every subject.
CC: What are the pre-requisites for Teach for America?
ND: To apply you need to have:
- Bachelor's Degree by 2007
- 2.5 minimum undergraduate GPA
- US citizenship or national/permanent resident status
CC: How will this career lead you to your longer-term professional goals?
ND: I ultimately want to run a school district or create my own school. I've met past corps members who are doing that now, and many of them went to either graduate or business school. So, I want to figure out which path will be the best fit for me.