From Teaching Fellow to Dream Job

Sarah Rabiner is a former Teaching Fellow from Durham, North Carolina. She completed her fellowship at Lowe's Grove Middle School in June of 2012 and currently works for a research company. The first application deadline for the National Teaching Fellowship is October, 29th 2012. After two years of serving as a National Teaching Fellow, people began to ask me the natural question, what’s next? For me, it was landing a dream job as a Research Specialist at Innovation, Research and Training in Durham, North Carolina.

I am currently developing a curriculum for the National Institute on Drug Abuse that develops social-emotional learning skills. The curriculum is to be taught to third to fifth graders in the after school hours.

As project coordinator for this effort, I oversee the planning, writing and evaluating of each lesson, including running a national evaluation study of the program, and a randomized control trial to determine the program’s effectiveness. It is a challenging, demanding role for a young professional, but I’m already having a lot of success because of something no one else in my office has; the experience as a National Teaching Fellow. It has made all the difference.

I am a product of the Durham Public Schools system. As an undergraduate studying sociology and public policy, I developed a desire to work with under-represented youth in my community. When I heard about Citizen Schools and the fellowship, I saw it as an opportunity to make that happen. It would allow me to work directly with under-served youth in Durham, and would also expose me to policy and nonprofit management. It was a perfect fit.

Early on in the fellowship I realized that I didn't want to become a classroom teacher. But I was really passionate about working with the kids. It was during my second year that I made a profound discovery about myself.

I took notice of some pretty tough developmental, social and emotional issues that my students were dealing with, and how those issues played into their peer interactions. It raised questions for me that I want to spend the rest of my career answering. That interest grew 100% by working with the kids in my classroom.

The amount of professional development and support that I experienced at Citizen Schools is unlike anything that I've experienced before or since. I developed skills in communication, collaboration, prioritization and, most importantly, learned how to work and share space with people from all backgrounds and opinions.

There are so many buckets of skills that are important to long term professional success and career satisfaction that I was exposed to in an intensive way during the fellowship. The thing that stuck with me most—and that I actually said in job interviews after the fellowship— is that I know exactly what it feels like to not have something go as planned and still be successful. After all, if you can engage a group of adolescents (after a hornet flew in through the window, or a child tried to climb out of the window) you can do anything.

For me, the fellowship was an amazing opportunity for growth. It’s very humbling putting the needs of others before yourself which is not necessarily first nature for someone right out of college. By devoting so much of your energy to improving the lives of youth, your sense of self and your values really do shift and develop. The transformation that happens when you focus on improving the opportunities for the kids you grow to care about is a profound growth experience.

Upon reflecting on the two years I spent as a teaching fellow, I have one piece of advice for recent college graduates who are considering embarking on this journey. You have to keep your eyes and your mind open to really take advantage of this amazing opportunity. You might not realize when you’re in it just how profound it is.

The National Teaching Fellowship changes the lives of middle school students across across the country. It can also change yours. Apply today.