Monday, December 21, 2009

Personal Statement - First Draft

My positive experience with Teach For America has not made tying my two-year stint as a special education math teacher to my law school applications easier. Here is the first draft of my personal statement; since writing it, the entire premise of "salience" has been dropped. However, I hope it will be helpful for readers to see the process through which a personal statement can, and should, grow and change.

When I start writing for any purpose more creative than a research paper--I'd argue that law school personal statements fall in that category--I follow the advice of one of my screenwriting professors: if you're not going to finish it that sitting, stop when you still know exactly how to start the next time.

I knew that this personal statement was going to be on the concept of salience, so I tried to introduce the topic in an interesting way. I often find that if I have an excellent hook, I have a hard time immediately flowing into the meat of the text; knowing this about my writing style, I quickly outlined the potential points to make through the rest of the statement. Although I don't particularly care for the opening or the ultimate direction of this statement, I couldn't move on until I wrote it out of me.

That's another screenwriting tip that I suggest for writing personal statements. Clean and clarify your bad ideas by developing them into full prose. At best, you might surprise yourself and find something good; at worst, you won't try sneaking them into the finished product.

I could define salience prior to teaching math to learning disabled students. I was creative, I was analytical, and I would only be happy if my career required both attributes. I was no longer aspiring to be a film director, settling into a niche of finding and promoting artists and pitches. I reframed the importance of marketing, producing, and distributing works of art so that the concession of not creating them would not seem as important. My definition of saliency was as much one of self-preservation as it was introspective clarity about who I was and where I was capable of going.

Hoping to find a fresh perspective on importance beyond my own life, I went to the Bronx to become the 8th grade math teacher of 30 special education students. Their concept of saliency was very different from mine. I lived in a constant state of confidence, built from years of supportive parenting, excellent teachers, and opportunity little hindered by anything beyond my attributes and effort. My students had few such reasons for confidence, but clearest to me was the lack of math instruction in the previous two years. Math’s only salient points were confusion, a disconnect from the real world.

I. Salience

a. My positive definition

b. My students negative definition

i. How I addressed that by strengthening skills of summarizing and presenting

ii. Visual, auditory, kinesthetic – reach them however possible, changing mode but not content

II. Salience on micro-level

a. Lesson plans

b. Saliency changes because of readiness

c. Planning for someone else instead of for myself, and being responsible for the performance of others

III. Salience on macro-level

a. Unit plans

b. Data analysis

c. Affecting education reform in my school, in the US

IV. Saliency skills and how they apply to law

a. Backwards planning

b. Components

c. Presentation