Thursday, June 22, 2006

My December 2004 MTC Application Essay

I intended to post this last summer but never got around to it. I stumbled upon it today and was amazed by what I'd written; I'll comment on it later -- it's already quite long:


I want to contribute socially while growing personally, to teach high-school English while living in a rural Southern or Appalachian community, to pursue graduate coursework in Education while supporting myself financially. Professors and friends have suggested AmeriCorps, Teach For America, or the Peace Corps. But nearly three years ago, I found the Mississippi Teacher Corps’ Website and began e-mailing Germain McConnell questions academic, bureaucratic, logistical, and goofy.

During the past two years – while hibernating in my study; crisscrossing Israel; writing stories; traversing America by plane, train, and automobile; living in a nineteenth-century Virginian farmhouse; preparing for an extended stay in Mexico – I printed and completed MTC applications, amassed transcripts, frequented the Website, and even had recommendation letters sent once. But I never applied. Never put stamp to envelope and took my chance: I couldn’t bear the inevitable “your GPA is too low.”

Today, I have quite the collection of e-mail correspondence and dated application forms. A gathering of daydreams and desires: tangible reminders of years I might’ve spent teaching. But I’ve deliberated enough, weighing long- and short-term ambitions. January 2005, I apply.

Because.

I enjoy helping others better themselves. While at the University of Michigan, I volunteered with the Detroit Project to beautify city neighborhoods; with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to walk for a cure; with Tuesday Friends to supervise physically- and mentally-challenged adults at movies, barbeques, and pools; with Project Serve’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) to educate high-school dropouts and rebuild flood-damaged homes in rural West Virginia. I’ve touched urban poverty, held hands with the handicapped, and hugged backwater dope fiends. I’ve seen that I can make a difference – that I enjoy making a difference. But I want more: I want to nourish souls, challenge minds, and evoke excellence.

I’m looking to create a mind-blowing classroom experience for students by combining elements from my three most memorable and worthwhile educational experiences: (1) The six-week, eight-credit, uber-awesome New England Literature Program (NELP) run by U of M’s English Department, during which students and staff inhabit cabins, hike mountains, read incessantly, write intensively, live deliberately, and provoke one another to greatness while studying New England poetry and prose in a passionate, tight-knit community; (2) My two-month road trip to historical and literary hotspots around America (Twain’s Connecticut home, the Alcott house, Hawthorne’s Concord estate, Walden Pond, D.C., Antietam, Revolutionary War sites, Seneca Falls, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Ground Zero, etc.) which enlivened biographies and histories by meaningfully connecting me with America: a people, a place, and a time; (3) The previously mentioned ASB during which university students visit distressed communities, assist local laborers, and motivate struggling individuals. I love the hands-on approach!

A la Walt Whitman, I seek a synthesis of curriculum and experience. Bringing texts to the students, but also bringing students to the texts. I plan to facilitate an emotional, intellectual, meaningful literary experience, forcing students to think: arguing with me, bettering themselves, engaging with the material, personalizing the discussion. My gift is communication – specifically with children. I’ve taught teary-eyed pre-teens to dive, hysterical toddlers to float, and nearly 100 nervous students to improve SAT, PSAT, and LSAT scores. (I hope to bring similar programs to local schools.) I would like to sponsor an extra-curricular African-American Literature Society to connect students with their literary traditions and an extra-curricular writing workshop to engage young voices. I want to instill a love of writing and the English language as powerful as my own: a passion for grammar, an ardor for prose, a fascination with oddball literary characters from Holden Caulfield to King Lear. To work as hard as my teachers did.

Teaching is less about a checklist syllabus or national agenda and much more about motivational antics and personal connections with individuals. Teaching is reciprocal. It is the best way to understand the next generation, to contribute communally, and to interact substantively with others. I teach because I enjoy imparting skill and confidence. Watching somebody “get it” – eyes dancing, cheeks glowing, ideas clicking – is wonderful! I love tackling difficulties, assuaging fears, and steadying bicycles. Reminding kids to pedal, counterbalancing their weight, then releasing the bicycle, and watching students zoom.

Today, disadvantaged communities most need these outstanding contributors and energetic bike holders. Beyond ASB and NELP, my interests in Appalachia and the rural South stem from 6 weeks spent solo-camping outside a small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania while reading Salinger, Nietzsche, and Hesse; four months as a counselor at Kabeyun when William Pollack’s Real Boys gained widespread popularity; James Agee’s efforts to expose American poverty in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; FDR’s commitment to politically neglected Americans; and the many teachers to whom I trace my many enthrallments: Mrs. Fallbaum, Mr. Calkins, Mrs. Jaffe, my grandfather, my mother, John Rubadeau, Tish O’Dowd, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Plato. Many forces have together funneled me toward a life of service.

But what motivates me, challenges me to pedal faster? Teaching. Read my recommendation letters. Call my employers. Please. Descriptions of my teaching style vary from “passionate” to “committed” to “excellent.” I strive to stay ahead of my students, to teach to each of my students, to impress and motivate each of them to action. I’m busy and active when teaching and preparing to teach; I’m focused and energized. I mention all this in juxtaposition to my past academic record.

A cursory look at my transcript reveals several issues. (1) In college, my coursework was sporadic, depending on the class, semester, or professor. Finding employment, acceptance letters, and pride from such a marred transcript is, needless to say, difficult. (2) My commitment to and mastery of English Literature and writing courses cannot be denied. (3) I have an obvious capacity to excel when motivated and an undeniable, untapped potential evidenced by, again, “occasional” outstanding – far above average – scores, triumphs, and accomplishments. If good judgment comes from experience, then experience comes from bad judgment. I spent much of college learning from mistakes: the semester I pledged a fraternity, the semester I slept in my car, the semester I took off to visit old friends. I can relate to the struggling student, the disinterested, bored, or quitting child; I can understand firsthand why someone wouldn’t care as much about class A as class B or why someone wouldn’t see the practicality of schooling. Plus, I can confidently say that such behaviors are in the past – are behind me.

I’m deliberately enclosing 3 extra recommendation letters because they are the strongest indicator of who I am today – yes, I saw the directions “do not include any additional information or supplemental materials,” but I must. I would rather not get the job for failure to follow instructions than for failure to most fully paint the picture. These varying letters provide more color and humanity than black and white grades ever could. I am devoted to and excellent at teaching. I need someone to invest in me as badly as the Mississippi Delta kids need someone to invest in them. I want to further my own academic studies because Education is paramount. And I relish the opportunity to prove that I am capable of an “A” transcript; I long for the opportunity to improve upon and further my own schooling.

At NELP, I learned to challenge perceptions, embrace education, and seek genius in everyone. I look forward to a classroom full of boisterous discussion, feverish crescendos, full-contact learning. I make it impossible for students not to speak up; I lead and follow like a chalk-wielding one-man circus. I want to make books and language as tangible to them as my road trip made authors and history to me. ASB showed me firsthand what “want” means. And I’m no idiot. I understand that my students may face tremendous peer and social pressures, have rough or unpredictable home lives, and see little practical use for English class. But I intend to demonstrate the financial benefit of confident, persuasive writing – to teach the power of coherent, structured communication. I have these gifts and enthusiasm to offer.

My immediate future is alive with exciting possibilities. I may teach at NELP in Maine; assume more responsibilities at Camp Kabeyun; lead a 40-day USY trip to Alaska, Israel, or Costa Rica; prepare a fiction manuscript for publication; apply for a Fulbright grant; study as an NYC teaching fellow; take summer classes in New Mexico, Alaska, or Vermont toward a Masters degree in Literature through Bread Loaf School of English; use grant monies to found an alternative Tent-City summer writing program for high-school students; or attend MTC training in Oxford, Mississippi. My “five-year plan” involves a variety of pursuits focused on Literature and education, stamping out ignorance, and leadership.

I hope I’ve been clear: of everything I’ve mentioned and every program I’ve considered, the Mississippi Teacher Corps is the program that most speaks to me. I see it as the cornerstone around which everything else fits. I would like to use my MTC experience as a stepping stone into future teaching, graduate work, and communal outreach – locally, politically, legislatively, creatively. I’m currently in a holding pattern somewhere between a 3.0 and a successful, impacting future. And I would love to begin amid Tennessee Williams’ characters, Faulkner’s lands, and Twain’s waters. For three years, MTC has been my top choice. It still is. So, I’m going to mail this letter. I’m going to send this application, and I’m going to go home, throw away the abandoned forms, and wait for your decision.

I’ve made mine.

7 Comments:

Blogger dd adams said...

destiny's child ... "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

id love to see you in action.

school is life, the rest is just details?

June 27, 2006 12:57 AM  
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Blogger Miss Marshwater said...

that's a really intense application. I'd've hired you.

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