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March 11th, 2002


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03:51 pm - How hard is it?

OK. So I've been secretive about the interview I had and my prospects for what I'm doing next year. I think I may understand why.

This weekend was about my quest for the hardest possible thing I could do after CMU. I think I've found it, and I don't know what to think about it. Please consider what you think the hardest thing might be.

If you said graduate school, you would not be wrong. This is harder. It is a two year program where one teaches (fulltime, your own classroom) in the most underresourced schools (Brooklyn, South Bronx, Harlem) in the city of New York. Simultaneously, you are enrolled in a graduate program (night school, weekend classes, summer), earning a Masters of Education in the two year period (fully paid for). Earning a first year NYC teaching salary ($31,910). I am not making this up.

And so I applied on a longshot. Apparently, it was quite a longshot: they had 12000-14000 applicants this year, they believe. A month later, I passed through their filters, and was offered an interview spot. So I went to NYC last weekend.

If anyone is interested, I could do a full writeup of the experience. It was quite an experience, and of itself, worth the price of admission. The most interesting, and spiritually satisfying, part was the other applicants. On the whole, I don't have a great read on my chances... if it matters.

My 5 minute, completely off-the-cuff, lesson was on how computers represent numbers (binary introduction). I did this for several reasons, which I hope the few people who will read this will appreciate. First, I thought it was a bit of material that they would not have been exposed to -- and by engaging them in something easy and useful, might demonstrate teaching ability. Second, I've got a complete disconnect from what material is taught at the highschool level: both CMU and my previous, weird school experiences have warped from me what is normal. Third, its not like midsemester exams gave me time to prepare. And finally, I view the educational experience in idealistic, hollistic terms. I think computers should be initially taught with a comprehension of the base (why does the computer use 1s and 0s? How does it do so?) so that the box becomes less opaque and the mystery (until you really get into it...) fades. And I can't think of anything in Chemistry which I could present a 5 minute complete lesson (begining, middle, end) of, out of the context of that which had come before. Maybe I'm just lame.

Though it seemed to have made an impact, at least on some of the other applicants, who were fascinated by how it worked and that they were able to "get it". Faith in humanity may be recovering.

So back to the basic point. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll post this, and see if I get any response, before I breakout my analysis of what the heck I am/was thinking. I've been quiet on this partially cause I guess I wanted to see and experience before everyone told me how terrible an idea it was.

Now its that time. Thank you for your attention and time.
Current Mood: contemplative

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:maryneedssleep
Date:March 11th, 2002 01:44 pm (UTC)
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The job does sound difficult. Very difficult. But possibly very rewarding as well.

Why is it that you want to do whatever is most difficult? You've proven that you have incredible discipline by sticking with your chemistry major, labs and all. But if you're choosing this not because it's interesting, or fulfilling, but because it's difficult... just be damn certain you really want to do this (or whatever else) before you agree to sacrifice your evenings, weekends, and summers for the next 2 years.

Best of luck.
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From:daemonv
Date:March 11th, 2002 04:09 pm (UTC)
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Of course, you immediately note the most troubling element of this whole mess.

As near as I can tell, I'm a chemistry major because I thought it would be a challenge. That I should do that which is least natural and for which I have no natural aptitude for... so that I could hit the wall and go slink off to something that gives me pleasure. That plus a half-dozen other ideas is the best model I can think of at the moment.

OK. So now I'm a graduating student with a degree which I don't have very much interest in. And I can look at myself and say "boy, that was a dumb idea". It is not really a good thing. Having to explain to everyone why I'm a chemistry major even though I have a hacker's mindset towards computers.

Is this a case of doing the same thing to myself again. Will I be sitting there, a year... or two... from now, completely broke ($32K in NYC...), not terribly interested in what I'm doing except for the sake of doing it? And have to ask myself "What was I thinking?"

(Hence, Livejournal. Thanks for the comments)
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From:daemonv
Date:March 11th, 2002 11:10 pm (UTC)
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I'm apparently transparent to all. this is not the place for you to work out your issues -- there are easier ways to do that.

if doing this pushes your happy buttons... I wish I knew. I was nervous at various stages, though I did experience a bit of the teaching high when people approached me later with fascination from my topic. That was kind of a buzz.

Could I achieve comparable buzz doing brilliant commercial work? Running one of the coffeeshop options? Probably. What weighs on my mind is can I walk away from this and not feel selfish and materialistic?. The problem with my arguments is that the valid points tend to recognize the karma cleansing appeal. But am I approaching this with self-serving goals?

Messy.
(Deleted comment)
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From:daemonv
Date:March 12th, 2002 03:21 pm (UTC)

Re: SK's aimless meanderings

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OK. I couldn't necessarily follow all of it, and I won't try to address all points. That said, you make some interesting points mostly orthogonal to the post you replied to.

Yes - electing to be portrayed as altruistic is not altruistic. I generally hold the belief that altruism does not strictly exist, although one may be guided by their principles to be self-sacrificing.

I don't want to be self-sacrificing... I hope. I kind of hoped you had more insight on where I fall in your list of evaluation criteria. You probably know me as well as anyone (or I do).

Clearly service does not have to be all-or-nothing. I don't necessarily feel so strongly for education that it dominates my thoughts. I'll address in a different comment what I hope to get out of this. Listening to the executive director of EPIC at CMU yesterday, I was reminded that electronic privacy concerns are not elitist concerns, its just that the technological elite are in the best position to see it, see through it, and name the bullshit and censorship for what it is. That this is a very very legitimate thing to be concerned for, as much so as any welfare or educational agenda. Because it is going to effect everyone.

And I'm not sure that motivation should be factored out, because I'm not sure it is evaluated in the way you might think. On the other hand, I don't know that looking at the "happy buttons" and adding weight to this because it is "doing something good for society" should be factored in.
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From:skamille
Date:March 11th, 2002 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Wow, interesting. You really want to teach, for at least the next few years? I applaud you if so, but what a hard life.
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From:daemonv
Date:March 11th, 2002 04:00 pm (UTC)
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So that's part of the problem: I don't know if I want to teach. I find myself putting more and more stake in the quality of teaching. If I hope to teach in the future, I would like to be a good teacher. It seems like this would be a "trial by fire" - in the end, I would know if I can teach, and if so, that I will be good (would have to be to survive, I'd believe, especially as a complete foreigner).

But yes, it would be an incredibly unpleasant. And would likely set back most of my ambitions - I can't imagine a whole lot of time to keep up my computational science interests.
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From:daemonv
Date:March 11th, 2002 04:24 pm (UTC)

Cost of Living

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Curious. According to this calculator, the salary conversions of ($31910) to Pittsburgh from the Bronx ($28012) and Brooklyn ($29651) are suprisingly comparable. Of course Manhattan ($21257) is out of the question, though that number is rather similar to the CMU RI stipend (I would also be terribly suprised if that is accurate).
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From:daemonv
Date:March 11th, 2002 08:59 pm (UTC)

Add to the mix

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And then there is another conflict of action. Its entirely probable that I won't even be selected. And if I am, do I feel obligated to comply (not from them, but myself)? If I don't plan to do this, I should withdraw - I'd hate to have another who would be better lose their space cause I've got more "prestigious" credentials. On the other hand, the egoist in me would continue to poison my mind aobut whether I was good enough. Did they recognize my potential.

Applying for things is always a bruising experience. They had to emphasize over and over that we were not in competition with each other. And they cite it that of the 14K applicants, we had already been screened and had all the qualifications to be a NYC teacher.

Blah. Damn pesky social conscience.
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From:lange
Date:March 12th, 2002 09:19 am (UTC)

Wow!

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I like to preach to the choir, and tell people what they already know. That said, I'll restate what I'm sure you and those reading have already concluded with some of my own particularly peculiar opinions.

I'm not a religious person, but I consider teaching godly. I worship anyone who devotes their lives to educating others. And very few jobs let you impact the lives of bright students in the same way that a good teacher can.

I'm also an idealist.

This job will be difficult. It will be challenging. (Most likely, hell.) And without a doubt, you will find that there are rewards to be found in doing it. But you already know this.

Somewhere amongs the piles of junk that you'll have to sort through, you'll have to set aside a seperate heap for personal happiness. No one else can tell you whether or not this job will make you happy. If only. And doing a thing because it's good, and because it's challenging oftentimes is the best way to lead a very unhappy life.

It takes courage to make decisions. Bravery to enter bold-faced into a life with so many unknown variables. Admittedly, it's only two years (and what's two years when giving advice on someone else's life, eh? :) But depending on whether or not you enjoy your life, those two years can feel like two centuries or two months.

Here's my litmus test (shamelessly stolen from someone else's dogmatic views): imagine waking up at 6:45 am every morning one year in the future when you have this job. Immerse yourself in that very scenario of half-conciousness. Consider your first thoughts, those half-dreams that float through the aether. Will you want to pull the covers over your head and hit the snooze button, or will your excitement be boundless? Put another way, will you ache every night to get up and begin another day at work?

I strive for the latter.

I'm an idealist.

I'm telling you things you already know.
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From:skamille
Date:March 12th, 2002 02:50 pm (UTC)

Re: Wow!

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I can't imagine ANY job that I'd like to wake up at 6:45 AM for, or that I'd ache every night to get up to go to. Every job is going to have its share of annoyances and frustrations. That's why they're called JOBS. I guess I am not an idealist. I would not take a job that had me working my ass off for 2 years unless it was something that I really wanted to do as a means to some sort of end (personal happiness? maybe. resume fodder? maybe. future career? maybe). So, is it going to do any of those things for you? Are you going to feel like a significantly better person? Or, will you be happy? Or, will you be put on the track to achieve some grander personal goal? If you can't really say that it'll do any of those things for you, well...
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From:daemonv
Date:March 12th, 2002 03:50 pm (UTC)

Re: Wow!

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First: It amuses me to consider something for whichI would have to wake up at 6:30 (or so...) every morning. And dress in an appropriate manner. My last job I didn't wear shoes in the office and tried to get there by 11am. I'm not convinced that thatis a deal breaker...

I can't imagine any option for which I would ache every night to go to. I don't even imagine that someone like Hugh Hefner does (though I guess there are elements of aching at night...)

On the other hand, I'm not real hung up on the "working my ass off for 2 years". I'm in my 4th year of CMU working my ass off for no real reason. Or at least, I did 4 semesters of Lab Hell. As I put it, this may be something I would have liked to have done, but I'm only going to have the energy for it while I'm young. This doesn't seem like the kind of thing I would be interested in career shifting into. Cause the next big lumps in the road are graduate school(s), with the potential for more comfortable results on the other side.

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From:daemonv
Date:March 12th, 2002 04:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Wow!

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(segmented to avoid huge, unrespondable comments)

But to address your real question: what means do I wish to enablize through this "stunt"? First, I really appreciate the discussion, because it gives me a chance to work out these notions with really high quality bullshit detectors. thank you everyone.

The mechanisms by which I have boosted myself out of depression are such that I hope and regret that my happiness is mostly decoupled from my situation. So I can't really comment on "happy buttons" or whether I would achieve personal happiness.

As I said in my first response or two, quality of teaching is something I feel is important. Nothing there says "education". My dad's success can be attributed to his teaching ability. I get the sense that teaching high school is about as hard as it gets, but that that can be a benefit: you have to develop good habits for high teaching loads and demanding (unmotivated) students.

A difference between a high-intensity program like this and just walking onto a highschool teaching job is the training, peer and support groups. So rather than just learn that I can not teach (which my mother realized as a substitute teacher while my dad was teaching english), I could at least hope to improve.

So I guess a motive to this might be that if I can handle a South Bronx classroom, any academic work I might want to do would be easier and I'd be better at it. And if I can't, I'll know how to muddle through as a TA.

And it might be nice to be able to step back and assess what fields I actually enjoy.
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From:combinator
Date:March 12th, 2002 04:37 pm (UTC)
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This sounds a lot like the Peace Corps Master's International program. So maybe if you want to really challenge yourself and get a master's but don't get into the NY program, you could try for this. As we all know, Peace Corps is the toughest job you'll ever love, so it's guaranteed to be both hard and interesting!
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From:daemonv
Date:March 12th, 2002 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Indeed. I'm not sure the masters degree is a motivator - its granted by the City College affliated with the school district and so lacks the prestigous "umph". And for the PCMI I'd still need to apply to gradschool... at which point I might as well actually apply to gradschool.

Or not. Thanks for the link, its something to think about.

...Though I'll admit, there is a sick temptation to go about collecting Masters degrees. Its what my parents have done (my mom just beat my dad getting her third), although a PhD would probably be an easier trump.

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