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Teach for America - A View from Inside

November 3, 2006
Uncertain coming out of college, Neena Dass spent two years teaching English at Oakland High. Now she anticipates creating her own school or running an entire district. In the meantime, she's helping recruit the next cohort for Teach for America.
 

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.

 
 
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This page last updated 10/31/2006 (ag/tcd)