INTERVIEW: ALEX TREIGER (JHU ’12), RETURNED TEACH FOR AMERICA CORPS MEMBER (CURRENTLY STANFORD LAW SCHOOL 1L)

The graphic image of Lady Justice, blindfolded and holding the weights of justice.

Alex Treiger, JHU class of 2012, matriculated to Stanford Law School in the fall of 2016. Although by his senior year he was already passionate about pursuing a career in law, he sought a post-grad opportunity where he could fight for social justice in an underserved, urban community; Teach For America (TFA) was a natural fit.

Through TFA he was placed as a high school science teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. He spent the next four years in NOLA teaching 10th grade biology at Cohen College Prep, an open-enrollment charter school. At Cohen both Alex and his students demonstrated significant growth on Louisiana’s standardized biology assessment, improving to the 2nd best performing school in the district. In addition to teaching biology, Alex has taught middle school earth science and served for two years as a grade-level chair.

At Hopkins, Alex majored in Public Health with a focus on domestic public policy and loved his time at Bloomberg. During his junior year, Alex studied abroad at St. Catherine’s College at Oxford University and then spent two months serving as a public health consultant on a sanitation and hygiene project in Papua New Guinea. Outside of academics, Alex worked as a research associate at the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at Bloomberg and at Drug Strategies, a drug policy think tank; volunteered at Health Leads; was a member and Co-President of the Johns Hopkins Mock Trial Team; and used a PURA research grant to study the evolution of the Commerce Clause and its implications for the Affordable Care Act.

In his free time, Alex enjoys competing in triathlons and trail running events, backpacking, and seeking out new ice cream flavors. Originally from the Bay Area, he is happy that Stanford Law is providing him with an excuse to return home and rediscover the natural beauty of Northern California.

Questions:

Describe a day in the life of a 10th grade teacher/team leader and Teach for America Corps Member.

Being a teacher really forces you to be a morning person, regardless of your internal clock! My days started early: I usually jumped in the pool around 5 AM for an hour swim, then rushed to school to make any last minute adjustments for the day. Once scholars arrive at 7:30 the day usually just flies by. This past year, I taught 5 periods of 10th grade biology with anywhere from 20 to 30 scholars, all of whom had different learning styles, reading levels, and growth goals. In order for every scholar to master the material, the lesson plan needs to reflect the diversity of needs in the room and facilitate a high level of differentiation. If you walked into my room on any given day you would see scholars all over the place: some are working with me in a small group, others are in a big loud group tackling a “brain cruncher,” while others are working independently on a writing task. In short, my class is an hour-long orchestra of organized, purposeful chaos! Of the two remaining class periods in a day, I spent one working the “cool down desk,” a structure utilized to help behaviorally struggling scholars reflect and reset so they can deescalate the problem and return to class, and the other period checking on other 10th grade classes and working on grade-wide projects such as field trips, testing schedules, or cultural messaging. Scholars would leave around 4:30, but that doesn’t mean the work stops! Each evening usually entailed roughly two or three hours of grading, analyzing data, making parent calls, and adjusting the next day’s lesson. At some point between all that, dinner and going to bed I would usually try to squeeze in either a quick run or bike! Long but incredibly engaging and rewarding days…and never boring!

What made you choose this particular position and has it met your expectations?

I decided to apply to Teach For America (TFA) because I knew that I wanted an academic break between undergrad and law school, but felt compelled to work in a role where I could actively contribute to the fight for social justice in urban communities. Additionally, I thought that being a classroom teacher would give me an intimate view of the current educational crisis, enabling me to develop informed opinions about education reform policy.

My time teaching has, without a doubt, impacted me deeply. First off, when I applied to TFA I never could have fathomed how strong of a bond I would create with my students. Had you asked me at Hopkins graduation if I would teach for four years I would have audibly scoffed, and yet I found myself extending my time in the classroom – and deferring law school – just so I could watch students walk across the graduation stage. Watching my students grow over four years taught me that hard work, persistence, and collaboration can bend the arc of progress! From this experience I now know what it feels like to be so invested in your work that it evolves into a personal mission; I hope to find the same sense of purpose in my law career.

Did you pursue anything else during your interim years before beginning law school? How did you go about researching each of these opportunities?

During my four years in New Orleans I did not pursue any work or academic experiences, instead choosing to focus my energies in the classroom. That said, given the scale and seeming intractability of the problems you face on a daily basis teaching in an underserved community, it’s critical to develop self-care outlets. Whereas at Hopkins I sometimes would just sleep in the library (we all did, right?), I quickly found that approach wasn’t productive or sustainable as a teacher. I became involved in triathlons as a way to decompress from school, so whenever not working I was swimming, biking, or running.

What do you think you have gained from the experiences and from taking time off before law school? Given the choice, would you do it again?

Many of my close mentors from Hopkins and summer experiences strongly advised taking time off between undergrad and law school. I’m certainly glad I heeded their advice! I could offer a plethora of reasons why I think nearly everyone should take a gap prior to law school, but I’ll just give a few. Take a gap…

  • Enables you to deepen your knowledge and passion in whatever issue is driving you to become an attorney. My time in NOLA allowed me to witness how policy and law affects low-income, minority communities in the areas of education, criminal law, housing, food security, and economic opportunity. Moreover, it empowered me to work with other stakeholders (parents, non-profits, educators) to discuss and address these issues.
  • Provides you an opportunity to develop the professional and interpersonal skills that legal employers seek in an associate. In an interview I will be able to talk how I overcome significant and unforeseen challenges to hit my end-of-year academic goals, or can speak confidently about my ability to lead other adults to accomplish a project by the deadline. I never would have had these experiences and skills if I had gone straight through to law school.
  • Allows you time to mature and learn how to balance work and life. Maybe there are folks out there who graduate already a pro at managing their work responsibilities, getting the laundry done, balancing the budget, and squeezing in those gym sessions…but I wasn’t! Taking time to grow up and learn how to navigate work and fun in the “real world” equipped me with a set of mindsets and sense of self that will (hopefully) allow me to get the most out of law school and enjoy it!

What types of undergraduate opportunities did you pursue that led to your decision to apply to law school? Were there any other experiences that you felt were particularly helpful in strengthening your application to law school?

For me, while I knew prior to Hopkins I was interested in law, volunteering with Health Leads at the Harriet Lane Clinic in East Baltimore exposed me to the gap between the promise of the “American dream” and the realities of living in a low-income, urban community. (For clarity, Health Leads is an organization where students help patients at hospitals find psychosocial resources such as locating food pantries or signing up for federal benefits programs). Having grown up in a privileged area of the Bay Area, being in East Baltimore listening to a client talk about their impending eviction or their struggle to find employment because of their criminal record was a heartbreaking, angering experience. But I also felt empowered, because I was able to help these clients by providing them with resources to improve their situations. Without a doubt my experience with Health Leads led me to TFA and now a future in public interest lawyering.

On a more general note, I would advise any aspiring law school students to get involved in classes and extracurricular activities based on passion and interest, rather than for their perceived law school application benefit. To provide one example, I took an Asian art history class my freshman year to satisfy a writing requirement and loved the professor so much that I took three more classes with her. The classes never related to my major or professional interests, but I found the professor and content stimulating. That professor became a strong mentor, pushed my writing skills, and wrote one of my recommendation letters. By spending your time on projects and courses you enjoy, you will develop the accolades, skills, and relationships that will come in handy when you apply to law school.

Contact Information

Alex is happy to answer any further questions from students. He can be reached at: atreiger@stanford.edu

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