What’s Up Alum? – Zach Blattner

20 Jan

Zach Blattner, CCAS ’05, graduated from the University Honors Program summa cum laude.  An English major and a Creative Writing minor, Zach received his MPA in 2010 from the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.  He currently works at Scholar Academies, a charter school network specializing in school turnaround with locations in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Zach Blattner

Zach Blattner - UHP '05

If you’re nervous about life decisions or have upcoming graduate angst, here is my advice – find a really challenging experience that forces you to change.

I remember, during my senior at GWU, that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do in the world and I was perplexed by the certainty with which some of my peers discussed their future. Some were on a pre-med track, others had strong psych resumes, and the really smart ones were taking GRE subject tests and preparing for doctorate programs.

Of course, I’d been strategically preparing for my future by taking classes on Dostoevsky, Kafka, post-modernism, and 18th century British literature. All that I knew for certain was that 1) I really cared about literature and writing and 2) I didn’t have the slightest interest in pursuing a Ph.D.

So I decided to apply to Teach for America and, after scouring the regional choices and listening to my friends, I selected South Texas (the Rio Grande Valley) as my top choice.

6 months later I was teaching 11th grade English and AP Language and Composition in Roma, Texas – a small border town in one of the poorest counties in the country.

Initially, the situation was overwhelming. I was far from my friends and family (check out Roma, TX on google maps). No one had ever passed the AP English exam at Roma High School. Many parents only spoke Spanish. Most of my students were only 4 to 5 years younger than I was. Very few had ever been outside of South Texas or Northern Mexico. I was immediately struck by the contrast between my own privilege (Physician parents, private school, GW) and the obstacles impeding my students.

Despite my personal struggles in Roma – and I did have some tough days (and nights) grading papers, calling parents, planning lessons, and trying not to let 17 year old kids drive me crazy – it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I bonded closely with my students as they consistently surprised me with their capacity to learn – they read challenging novels like The Scarlet Letter, wrote sophisticated essays, and a bunch even ended up passing the AP Language and Comp exam. My greatest growth was that I learned how to start becoming an adult during these two years; I took care of my own health insurance and retirement plans, I navigated tense relationships with coworkers and students, and for the first time, I became certain about my career. All of this had eluded me in college.

Since Teach for America, I’ve remained in education working as a curriculum writer, policy analyst, public consultant, and currently as an administrator at a charter school network, Scholar Academies, that specializes in school turnaround.  We operate two Young Scholars schools in Philadelphia and one DC Scholars school in Washington, D.C.  I get chills when I reconnect with my former students (the beauty of Facebook) and I learn that they are enrolling in graduate schools or starting new jobs.  Today, I’m still uncertain about where I’ll end up, but I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction.

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One Response to “What’s Up Alum? – Zach Blattner”

  1. Maria Frawley January 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    What a great post, Zach. Thanks for sharing it. I want to learn more about the DC Scholars school in DC; perhaps there is a way to get GW honors students involved and helping in some capacity. Thanks again– Maria Frawley

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