Posted by March 14, 2013 blog No Comments

Be who you are. Do what you do.




It was 4 am on the morning of my Blue Engine interview in New York, and I was wide awake. Propped atop a mountain of impossibly white hotel pillows, I shifted my eyes methodically between the flashing lights of Times Square out my window and the sickly, post-midnight glow of my computer monitor. On it sat a half-finished final paper that was due at 9 am. For the next five hours, I stared at the blinking of the (mostly stationary) cursor until it became too much to handle, then turned back to the skyline, where I felt my anxiety pains double.

The next day I would be interviewing for a job in a city I knew almost nothing about—so little, in fact, that my aunt’s advice to stay in Times Square because it was “centrally located” had seemed perfectly reasonable. I squinted at the screen in an attempt to block out the neon seeping in through the curtains and I worried incessantly. Some of my worrying was directed at the paper I knew I’d have to pull an all-nighter to finish. Most of it, however, was directed at the looming interview for a job I really, really wanted.

Now, after seven months of living in New York City, I know better than to step foot in Times Square—I avoid it like a mysterious substance on an empty subway seat. And after six months of teaching for Blue Engine, I know better than to worry myself sick about how (or if) my personality, ideas, passions, or intuitions might fit in. I knew this from the moment I stepped out of that daylong interview and into the gray, New York winter sun. Despite the weather, I was feeling perfectly delirious; I was loopy from lack of sleep, but I was also feeling a strange, dawning elation—something I later attributed to having found the place I wanted to spend my first, formative years after college. My first years as an educator, yes, but also as an individual.

There’s an incredible openness that comes with interviewing for an organization that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers; none of that ideology-touting that comes with interviewing for a place that has particular things it wants you to say. During a single twenty-minute phone interview with City Year, I remember hastily squeezing in how my experience with high school cheerleading had taught me the importance of uniforms for team unity. I thought it might get me one step closer to my goal—to be in a classroom with students.

The Blue Engine interview was the first I had ever had where I felt I was saying what I wanted to say, instead of what I was supposed to say. The first half of the interview focused on group work. As I sat around a table with the other candidates, debating our survival strategy if we were stranded in the tundra, I looked to a current BETA to ask a question. He shrugged his shoulders casually and said he couldn’t intervene, but his posture, his genuine confusion, suggested he might not know the “right” answer himself. There are no right or wrong answers, the whole exercise seemed to be saying, because we want to know who you really are, how you think, and what you’d really do. So I said what made sense to me. I didn’t worry about what I should be saying.

As I watched the current Blue Engine staff interact with each other, I got the feeling that these people didn’t just work so well together because they believed in Blue Engine’s mission; it was also because they genuinely respected, cared for, and liked each other. The energy in the room was indescribable. There was no other place I wanted to be.

As another round of BETA selections starts, some applicants may find their situation similar to the one I was facing that late February night—stressed by midterms or finals, overwhelmed by the thought of life post-graduation. So here’s my advice: don’t worry as much as I did. Don’t worry about saying what you think Blue Engine wants to hear, because it’s not so black and white. We want to listen, and we want to learn about you. We’ll probably be more impressed if you say what we don’t expect to hear—probing questions that smartly challenge our current conception of what works in the classroom. Figuring out how to push students further, faster is an evolving, flexible process, and as Blue Engine enters its fourth year, we’re still pushing ourselves to create the best model possible.

And above all, get some sleep. Finish that paper and rest easy knowing that the next day, you’ll have no other obligation but to be who you are and do what you do. What could be easier? You’ll be great.