Teachers College, Columbia University: Not Just Solely for Teachers
Early on in life, I have been aware of my fondness for school. I enjoy learning new things, sitting in classes, and walking in hallways. Graduate education has always been in my life plan.
Early on in life, I too have been aware of my enthusiasm over New York City. Having born here, I have perceived the Big Apple as a place where I would be back someday, somehow. On every visit prior to living there, I would collect memories of affection, adventure, and self-discovery.
When the time came for me to apply to graduate schools, I simply combine the two. My top choice was Teachers College in Columbia University. Life has been kind enough and I was fortunate to gain admission to the program of my choice, International Education Development.
Why Teachers College?
Teachers College (TC) was previously an independent institution. It was founded in the late 19th century, to answer to the diring needs of New York City. Immigrants were flooding in, obviously with their younger ones. Most of them successfully gained citizenship and hence, the government had to provide public education. Most children had zero experience with the English language. TC were founded to prepare skilled teachers to be able to cater to the needs of these children and families. Few decades afterwards, the institution became affiliated with Columbia University.
Aside from its prime location, TC was attractive for two other reasons. Firstly, as much as the courses in TC discuss thoughts of John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and other educators and/or philosophers in the past, they never fail to relate the ideas to current issues in education. TC invites students to think in the ‘now’ context, and most of the times, in the urban context. Coming from Jakarta, Indonesia, I can easily identify with urban problems pertaining education. The ideas that we talk about here can surely be applied as solutions to enhance the quality of education in our Indonesia.
The second appeal comes from its exhaustive list of programs. Name any field, put it side by side with education, and you can surely explore it further in Teachers College. Anthropology and education, check. Art and education, check. Finance and education, check. One can combine his or her expertise in any given area and combine it with skills and knowledge in the field of education. TC has a practical system that allows prospective students of completely different background than education to join the vision in realizing better livelihood for global citizens, by means of human capital empowerment.
Introducing Yourself in the Personal Statement
Now, the question that most people ask is, what are the strategies to be accepted? There are many items that prospective students would have to prepare. GRE, TOEFL for most international students, and a well-crafted one-page resume were among the things. Nonetheless, I would like to highlight one supplement that I feel has the most impact on the application process: the personal statement.
Composing the personal statement is an art. Knowing what you aspire to be in the future is important, yes, but it is not enough. You’d have to be able to sew your dreams and ambitions together into a bigger social context, complete with its economic and perhaps political elements. Admission officers might not be familiar with the hometown or the situation that you grew up in, but you’d have to be able to explain that in a concise yet detailed manner.
Another challenge in making an eloquent essay is to promote yourself just enough, without being too self-centered. Sure, they all would be interested to know that you did XYZ previously and that you received XYZ awards and recognitions. So do most other applicants from all over the world, actually. Avoid “I”s, and turn it around using passive sentences. Put the limelight on what you learned and how you felt about the learning experience, but at the same time, make sure that you mention your achievements.
I am a true believer in the notion of balance, and I applied it when writing my personal statement. Too much of one thing is never good. A personal statement should be, indeed, personal, but at the same time, professional. It tells about both you as well as your work, interest, or passion in the education field. And being a grammar-anal teacher, I’d like to remind that perfect mechanics is non-negotiable.
Being a TC student
Gettting into TC is hard. Completing your assignments here is hard. If anything, finding a place to study is hard too! Once, I was with two other friends, roaming around the many libraries here in Columbia University at 1 am, trying to get a proper table for us to sit and work – not an easy task.
Just like other graduate programs in the US, programs in TC rely much on analytical and critical thinking. Papers and homeworks are the kinds that you think through overnights. Ideas are preferably fresh. Reference to journals and other academic sources is a must. Thankfully, you would have the right support system here. Generally, students are very open-minded. I attribute this trait to their experiences working with less-empowered individuals and dealing with people of various background. Most of us share the same passion as well, which is advancement of human capital, just that we have different areas of interest. Some want to equip girls in Pakistan with self-esteem and skills, some others feel more comfortable drafting curriculum at a private school, and there are other individuals who dream of being a supercoach for high school teams all over America. The dynamic is healthy and fruitful; exactly what you would need to brace the piles of pages that you would have to finish and understand by the next class session.
Then again, Jay-Z said that New York is the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” It is so easy to get lost in your dreams and enthusiasm here. Hence, it is important to always remember the very reason why you wanted to go to Teachers College and why you wanted to pursue your graduate degree in education.
I look forward to have more people attending and graduating from Teachers College. I look forward to have more people sharing the same passion and to sit down with them over coffee. I look forward to having a better Indonesia, by means of human empowerment. Good luck, Educators!
Amanda P. Witdarmono is currently working on her M.A. in International Education Development at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. Prior to that, with a bachelor degree in Elementary Education from Boston University, she worked in Berani – Berita Anak Indonesia, a children’s media group based in Jakarta. Meanwhile, she taught primary school students on the evenings. Amanda has had vast teaching experiences, ranging from urban to suburban settings, both in the US as well as Indonesia.
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