Meghan Fahey: Outward Bound | Teachers College Columbia University

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Meghan Fahey: Outward Bound

Meghan Fahey: Outward Bound
By Joe Levine

When Meghan Fahey was growing up, her parents – educators both – urged her to consider careers in other fields.

“They pretty much told me, ‘You’ll find something else to do,’” laughs Fahey.  Which may explain why this fall finds Fahey not only pursuing a degree in TESOL (the teaching of English to speakers of other languages), but – something even she never contemplated –doing so at Teachers College, where her father, Scott, happens to be Chief of Staff.

“I swore I’d never be a faculty brat,” she says. “But for a variety of reasons, TC turned out to be the right place for me.”

Fahey’s gimpy knees constitute two of those reasons.  She showed up on crutches at TC’s orientation after some heavy-duty triathlon competitions forced her to undergo two arthroscopic surgeries over the summer and to defer, for at least a semester, her plan to enter the Peace Corps as an environmental education teacher.

“I realized that no matter what I do in the Peace Corps, I’m going to end up teaching English,” she says.  “My mom always talks about the teacher’s tool kit, and TESOL is a great tool to have. And TC has a great program.”

In fact, TC turns out to have a lot of assets that suit Fahey well.  She’s taking an earth sciences course with Ann Rivet, who has pioneered in creating classroom exercises and models that more closely approximate natural phenomena, such as climate change, that are two difficult to study in nature or in real time.  The College has a pronounced international flavor – “So many of my classmates are East Asian or Hispanic,” says Fahey, who is near-fluent in Spanish after six years of study and a junior year spent living and working in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest. “Coming from Vermont and Maine, that’s a real joy for me.”  And then there is New York City itself, with ethnic street festivals nearly every weekend and the exotic world of the subway.

“I’m just soaking it all up, every day,” Fahey says.

Ultimately, though, Fahey seems dead set on putting her own spin on the family business. She has no plans to be an administrator like Dad – “It’s too far removed from the classroom and kids – the first time I really had an inkling of what he did as chief of staff was after I watched ‘West Wing’” – and doesn’t see herself teaching in the U.S. public school system like Mom.  “I saw firsthand the toll it took on her – all the late nights and Burger King dinners – so I’d like to try some other country’s system.”

Assuming all goes well, Fahey will enter the Peace Corps in January and then, after returning to TC to compete her TESOL degree, find work overseas in environmental studies or TESOL. “I love the international possibilities,” she says of both fields. “You can work with an NGO, or as a classroom teacher, or in a variety of other roles.” 

For now, though, she says, “It’s interesting to be in graduate school to be a teacher. With my own teachers, I often tended to assume they just had this intuitive understanding of how to do their jobs.  I’m realizing now, they’re people, too. No one’s born knowing how to use the blackboard.”

Published Friday, Oct. 7, 2011


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