My advice for the TFA final interview

This blog isn’t always about art, but sometimes if I learn something important I just put it here so others can find it. Teach for America just keeps getting bigger and bigger, so I’ll just leave some practical advice here for future applicants.

Let me begin by bitterly disclosing that I was not accepted, but moving on….


1) Obey the 5 minute limit on the lesson time.

No really, 5 minutes. Seriously, 5 minutes. Don’t be THAT person who brought 20 minutes worth of material to cover.

2) Assume the worst presentation space possible.

Think cramped conference room with an awkwardly long table and no board of any type. Your “writing space” is just a 2ftx3ft piece of laminated paper and the markers are dry.

3) Dress (and act) like you got some sense!

Half of my fellow applicant showed up late and a few more were wearing going-out-to-the-bar clothes. Appalling, honestly.

4) Don’t leave your fellow applicants hanging

It’s actually fun to participate in the 5 minute lessons. Don’t be a jerk and let the crickets chirp. By acting like an interested student (age appropriately) keeps the pace brisk and your fellow applicants will return the favor.

5) Don’t print out power point slides and tape them to the wall as your lesson plan

Nobody can see or read what you just put up there. It makes you look like you didn’t really think this through all the way.

6) Don’t waste your teaching time

Make your fellow applicants pass your handout on their own. You’ll waste too much time handing every individual their own piece of paper. Drop the damn pile on somebody and say, take one pass it around.

7) Regarding the group exercise:

I think this is the most mysterious of all TFA’s assessments. Judging by most other accounts, this just makes everybody feel goofy and awkward. Alpha-leaders are restraining themselves, strangers don’t always work well together, writing out everything can take too much time, and someone’s always trying to say their piece even if it has nothing to do with subject. Then there’s the elephant in the conversation: the TFA staffer sitting there typing away at something that divines our true potential. I dreaded this part the most and for good reasons too.

8) Regarding the personal interview:

If I had to guess, I think they want to hear how you’ve suffered, how you’ll never leave your post, and that you’re the top 1% of the true-believers. Other than that, my interviewer was very disarming and very nice. I’m sure your interviewer will be awesome too.

9) Regarding the 5 minute lesson:

First of all, teach kids, not adults. If you want a group of adults to actually learn something you’re already doing it wrong. The worst presentations I saw were high school-level. The best were in the K-5 range. Think games and hands-on activities, not calculus. Don’t challenge the intellect of your TFA staff. If you make it easy for them to enjoy your topic, it makes it easy for them to have a good impression. Try remembering your favorite elementary school teacher and what they did.

10) In conclusion: sour grapes.

Rejection letter can be summarized as: You didn’t make the cut, our methods are fool-proof, and please consider joining the Peace Corps.


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