Embrace Nature

Embrace Nature

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Decisions, Decisions - Participate!

As a prerequisite to the final interview for TFA, I must fill out my "APF," or Assignment Preference Form. This form tells the placement committees where I'd like to be assigned if I'm accepted as a 2011 Corps Member. I think it's kind of cruel to make us think so much about where we want to go, only to potentially have our hopes crushed by a rejection. In any case, I actually have to rank every single one of their 39 regions in order of preference. I first lump them into 3 separate groups (Highly Preferred, Preferred and Least Preferred), and then within each group I must rate the regions. I can give multiple regions the same rank if I feel equally about them. (Say I put Chicago, New Orleans, and Miami-Dade in the middle group. I can give both New Orleans and Chicago a rank of 1 if I feel equally about being placed in either region.)

This is a somewhat daunting task. Part of me wants to check the box that effectively says, "Send me anywhere you want," but then I'd probably end up in the Mississippi Delta. And even if I do rank all 39 regions, I may still end up in the Mississippi Delta, but at least I'd feel like I had a say.

So I am asking for some suggestions. Below, I've listed all 39 available regions. Unfortunately, the Puget Sound isn't an active region until the 2012-13 school year. Help me out and put in the comments where you think I should (or shouldn't!) go. Give me some reasons if you can or want. There are more details about each region on the TFA website. Also feel free to vote in the polls in the right hand margin!

Thanks for your help.

*Image from Teach for America site

Teach for America Placement Regions:

* Alabama
* Baltimore
* Bay Area
* Charlotte
* Chicago
* Colorado
* Connecticut
* D.C. Region
* Dallas Fort-Worth
* Detroit
* Eastern North Carolina
* Greater Boston
* Greater New Orleans
* Hawai'i
* Houston
* Indianapolis
* Jacksonville
* Kansas City
* Las Vegas Valley
* Los Angeles
* Memphis
* Metro Atlanta
* Miami-Dade
* Mid-Atlantic
* Milwaukee
* Mississippi Delta
* Nashville
* New Mexico
* New York
* Newark
* Oklahoma
* Phoenix
* Rhode Island
* Rio Grande Valley
* San Antonio
* South Dakota
* South Louisiana
* St. Louis
* Twin Cities

Square Peg, Round Hole

While searching for a different scene from the same movie, I came across my favorite. It's only a minute long. Enjoy:

(TFA, I think you can find your ideal candidate in there somewhere...)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Awe-Inspiring and Educational

When I was in New York City recently for my NYCTF interview, I decided to check out the American Museum of Natural History. Many friends have told me that it's a great museum, but I almost passed it up because I'm not really a huge dinosaur fan or anything like that.

Skipping the opportunity to visit that museum would have been a HUGE mistake.

I was only able to go because my flight home was preemptively canceled due to snow. This is what I awoke to that Wednesday morning:

But the city was still running as usual, so I first made my way to Grand Central Station to lay my eyes upon a famous landmark:

Then I grabbed a bagel with lox and cream cheese, and caught the subway to the west side of Central Park.

What I found in the AMNH was beyond anything I could have imagined. Of course there were dinosaur fossils. But there weren't just a few fossils here and there. I saw hundreds upon hundreds of REAL fossils!

That Tyrannosaurus rex is a largely complete skeleton. The skull that is displayed as part of the body is a cast, but the actual skull lies in a glass case by its side, too heavy to be suspended. The "Fossil Experts" (so proclaimed by the badges they wore) were elated to talk with me for over 20 minutes about all of the fossils that were stored in the catacombs of the museum, as well as the ones on display in that room. According to the museum's website, they possess over 3 million specimens!

Velociraptor skull:


One of my other favorite skeletons was this woolly mammoth, as well as an accompanying section mummified mammoth FACE!

Of course, the dinosaurs weren't the only incredible part of the museum. After strolling through about 2-3 rooms of dino bones, I hustled back to the entrance to catch a free tour of the museum. Our guide was a wonderful old British woman who played the part in every way. She cracked jokes deadpan and spoke in a very no-nonsense fashion. I loved her!

First she showed us some beautifully made dioramas of African animals, and explained to us how they were constructed. The method in which the animals were prepared seemed painstaking and perfect.

Then we moved on to Hayden planetarium, which includes scale models of our entire solar system. The exhibit was recently renovated, with a floor-to-ceiling glass window enclosure, an internal spherical planetarium and a downward spiraling ramp to observe all the models and read the intriguing facts. I was there during the day, with the sun pouring in through the windows and creating a beautiful space, but the photos of the place at night seem simply celestial.

I just can't recount all of the amazing exhibits we saw, but I'll leave you with one last mental image. Did you know that the largest animal ever known to be on our planet is the blue whale? Upon walking through the archway into the Hall of Oceanic Life, one encounters, mounted from the ceiling, a full-scale cast of a real blue whale that once washed up on the shore. My jaw just dropped when I saw it. The hall is 2 levels, with the second level open to the one below, and the whale takes up much of this space. Photos do not do it justice.

Every foot - no - every inch of this museum has been carefully planned and executed. The minerals and gems, the cast of cro-magnon man, the dioramas of so many areas on earth, the Native American artifacts... I spent 4 hours - yes, FOUR whole hours - walking the museum, and didn't see half of it.

Once I returned to my host's home and told him where I spent my afternoon, he was elated. It's his favorite place in the city. Then I told a friend who now lives in Houston but grew up in Scranton, PA, and she was excited for me too -- she has wonderful memories of the museum from her childhood. When I returned to New Mexico, I told Rick, who used to design and build museum exhibits for a living. He was ecstatic that I had gone and had such a great time. It's one of his favorite museums.

It is hard for me to believe I almost passed up the opportunity to visit this place, but I am so glad I did. The American Museum of Natural History is NOT to miss if you make your way to the Big Apple. And please let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

No Excuses

Tonight I had a realization.

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you did everything you possibly could to achieve it?

I recently realized that I have been destined to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I remember hoarding office supplies in my room, setting them up on a TV tray, then pretending that it was my desk and that I was the teacher. I'm not sure whom I was teaching, but there I was. All my life I've loved explaining things to people, realizing when the explanation wasn't getting through, adjusting my approach, and checking for their understanding. Now that I have all of those experiences to look back on, I can confidently say that I am supposed to teach. I daresay it is my calling.

And now that I know that, I want it to become a reality as soon as possible.

So I've applied to Teach for America.

Per the recommendation of a friend and former TFA teacher, I read the book Relentless Pursuit, which documents a year in one particular school with TFA Corps Members. It doesn't seem to hide much. The first-year teachers struggle. Immensely. They cry, they nearly give up, they work themselves sick. And in the end, most of them succeed. Not only do they succeed, but they end up continuing their careers in education.

While portraying each of these Corps Members, the book also candidly reveals information about how TFA performs its selection of new teachers. As I read all of this, the selection criteria as well as the horror stories, I knew that I could do it. I became confident that not only am I meant to be a teacher, but I am supposed to be a Teach for America Corps Member, learning to teach in any of the most high-need schools in our nation. I am nothing if not a person who sets lofty (ambitious? idealistic?) goals and works hard to attain them, and this shall be my next attempt. My next conquest?

Once I decided TFA was for me, I threw myself into learning as much as I could about the organization, the mission, the teachers, the students, the alumni, the methodology, the selection process...everything. I submitted my written application online. I have been invited to a 45-minute phone interview. That interview is today. The potential next step would be a final day-long interview with other hopeful applicants.

I have prepared in every way. I have researched interview questions. I have reviewed the mission and vision. I have spoken to TFA alumni and picked the brain of an interview expert. I have read books on the achievement gap and education. I have outlined the ways in which I meet each of the 7 attributes that they look for in their applicants; attributes which they believe make successful teachers.

I have no excuses. If they do not choose me now, it will not be because I wasn't ready. It will be because I just do not fit their bill. And as shot-down as I may feel, I can accept it. I even have some backup plans.

My fingers are crossed that I won't have to use them.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929. He is most remembered for his nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, but also spent the last years of his life in opposition to the Vietnam War and working to end poverty. His "I Have a Dream" speech is a legacy, and a testament to his stellar oratory skills. He has received the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the third Monday in January, U.S. government employees, bankers and most schoolchildren are given the day off, ostensibly to reflect upon King's lifetime accomplishments and aspirations. But are we living his dream? Are we even working towards it?

I can hear the protest now: "But we have a black president! That proves we're moving forward."

All you have to do is walk through the hallways of some of the highest need schools in our country to realize that segregation is not a thing of the past. All you have to do is talk to the teachers or read the first chapter of Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities. Look at the numbers, the statistics. Read the literature.

Today I challenge everyone to learn a little bit more about the dream, how far we are from achieving it and what each individual can do to make it a reality. I challenge you to truly observe the holiday. And when you do that, I thank you for being a part of history, and for being a part of a better future.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Tonight I remember reading Sandra Cisneros when I was in 10th grade. That was the same year I decided I wanted to be an engineer. Look at me now. Here I am in New York City, interviewing for a fellowship that would take me in an entirely different direction.

I am nervous. I am nervous about the lesson that they want me to complete in only 5 minutes. I am afraid they won't realize that I'm perfect for the job. Because I know I am. But I'm nervous anyways.

And then there's the nervousness that shouldn't come till later. The uneasiness that is the tiny little voices asking, "Can you really do it?" and "Are you sure this is what you want?" and "Why would you move across the country again?" But I silence most of those by saying, "Yes," and "Of course," and "Why not?"

I sit here in this inspiring apartment in Brooklyn. I have been lent this extremely comfortable bed in this particularly well-decorated room. I look around, I look out the window. I wonder what the people who walk on the street below are thinking. I wonder what I will eat for breakfast. I wonder how I will ever plan the lesson that I want to teach on why the earth experiences seasons. (The answer is axial tilt.)

I realize it's far past midnight. I hear one of my hosts awake, pfaffing in the kitchen. I hear her clear her throat, in the same way that my friend whom I reconnected with earlier today clears hers. I should sleep. Tomorrow I will plan and practice my lesson.

I love the way this comforter feels. I love the warmth of this place. I love the soft rumble of the train as it passes by. And I am loving all the options in front of me right now.