Musings of a veteran teacher joining TFA

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 21 2012

“Transformation in the Classrooms”

This day fired me up a bit.  I wasn’t going to write today and instead take a break with the time that everyone else is interviewing with schools, but I wanted to get this out of me and reflect.  I’m so glad that I am hired already and also have a place to stay. I think that right there is why so many people are so stressed out.

So today was all about transforming the problems of everything that happens in school into one of a positive environment.  I found it mostly tedious.  First of all, transformation takes time.  And I’m okay with that.  However, the transformation of a school usually takes more than two years, which is the minimum time that most people are required to be in the school district.  Leaving after two years really just continues to shake up the students regularly.  It becomes a “who’s leaving this year” type of thing which leads to more insecurity.  So, it’s kind of “transform the school as best as you can in two years” and “decide to stay if you can”.    Bah.  It could be because we’ve been sitting for hours on end listening to people.  I can handle it, but I don’t enjoy it.  I’d rather do activities, just like our students.  It breaks things up, makes time go faster, is more engaging.  The people here are good at sitting and listening.  However, one guy, who was talking about the transitional changes in communities was so dry, even though his information could have been interesting.  Most people had checked out.  I did.  I really wanted to get my phone out, but I was doodling and barely hanging on.


Today wasn’t a waste.  It was odd.  It got people fired up about how bad the city report card is.  We talked about the climate of the city. We then heard from a guy from “Build” who was a political proponent of education.  That was interesting.  He talked about the different people on the board and talked about who had power and what was power and how you got power.  But he really didn’t talk about how you get power in a school setting.  He asked about who you talked to to find out about the school, and no one mentioned teachers.  I raised my hand to make sure that we included ourselves, which is important. He didn’t talk about the school family council, which I also raised my hand and suggested.  It is one way to find out what is going on in our Baltimore city schools.  He then stated that “If you have a council that the administration doesn’t give power to, you may want to find other ways to get what you want.”  True, but it was a little off putting in that someone who is advocating for change wants you to march to the mayor and Dr. Alonzo before you go to your administration.

On a side note, I’m starting to see some people’s true colors and can take bets on how their first years will go.  I won’t out anyone, but let’s just say that I’m taking bets that some people who have very specific agendas towards teaching are going to get a rude awakening.  I imagine that at some point, they will find themselves unhappy at having to do something that they will not want to do.  The students do see through those agendas, whatever they may be, and like to crap on them. I wish the best for that person.

Instead of listening and reflecting on what I can do in a school, I made plans for my classes for next year.  I listened and worked at the same time, but I really think that the question should be, “What are you thinking of doing in your classroom to get to know your students?”  Because that, in a nutshell, is how you bring change to your classroom.  You make relationships with the students, hopefully positive ones that you both build on.   We’ve been “listening”, “reflecting” for hours, and “asking questions”.  I would rather see this information put into a lesson plan that we each could individually create (or groups even) to engage our students in TFA’s values.  The values should be in the classroom, that’s obvious.  But we have to have buy in by the students or it isn’t worth much.  I like watching the videos and having a full group discussion to get our ideas thinking.  But it doesn’t really help those people in the classroom.  I don’t know, I’m in a different place than anyone here.  I believe in transformational change in a classroom, and I believe that teachers are in charge of their classrooms.  To make a movement, you need the one crazy person to bring things up and have followers to make a leader.  Wouldn’t coming up with a lesson that would start your own movement in your classroom seem important?  I understand that we need to look at the big picture and where our kids go.  Those of you who have already done this, what do you think?  Did you need the time to reflect on how to be transformational?  Would it have helped to brainstorm how we do this in a classroom?

Please comment, I’m curious.

8 Responses

  1. Kati Farley

    Sorry to be a drag, but the Katie F up there was Katie Farley, not Katie LaScorsa. So, not from Puerto Rico. But still with love!

  2. Meg

    I’m in a different region so I can’t speak definitively, but last year our Orientation/Round Zero (when you get back to your district after Institute before school starts) is where we wrote our visions, big goals, long term plans, and first unit plans. I think the point of doing this after Institute is so you have classroom experience to draw on as you’re coming up with these plans

  3. I had a difficult time with the majority of TFA presentation/lecture sessions (both at institute and at later events) because to me it felt like just people who like to talk, talking. I remember feeling most engaged with the handful of sessions where people with substantial teaching experience came in and told stories about their classes and conversed with us. I am sure this is just personal bias but it was hard to take many of the speakers seriously, because the people I most respect in my own life are quiet doers…and maybe this is ageist, but it worried me that all our speakers seemed to be under 30, no elders, no even middle-aged people. Also all the talking at us chafed because I was already motivated to get started on the work that needs doing. I learn better by working along side someone than by listening to them speechify.

    I kinda feel like if a speech can be put into an essay then just let me read the essay…it will take a fraction of the time and I can mull over it and digest it.

    • oniongirl

      That was the fastest comment ever, lady! This time around, there is definitely the different aged people, so maybe you said something to the right person? I ended up counseling someone who was just so frustrated and felt like TFA was giving all the positives and none of the negatives. She was excited to be here and be a part of the organization, but felt like she was being led to a response rather than them being truthful. I hear what TFA speakers are saying and they are being honest, but majority of the people responding are ignoring the negatives. I’m finding it interesting. We did also have a very old guy who wrote a book about the changing communities of Baltimore. An old Finnish man who immigrated here. Unfortunately, he was so incredibly dry that I wanted to poke my ears with pencils. Katie, I totally agree with the essay thing and then react to it. I’m actually doing better by blogging than talking to other core members. :) Enjoy the heat in NYC!

  4. Stephanie Givinsky

    i would’ve been frustrated, too. rarely are we transformed and “set on fire” by something we spectate…more often than not, its by something we do. is there a way to get the information across that is more engaging? does that not model an effective way to engage students? is there a way to achieve thinking about the big picture AND give you the opportunity to plan for the very real need to actively engage learners in a few short months?
    frustrating. i love reading your blog!

    • oniongirl

      Thanks, Stephanie. That’s exactly what I’m thinking in regards to engagement, you just put it more succinctly. I was trying to remember what the kids called you, but the only thing that was coming to mind was
      G dog. :) I do find it funny that they’ll “teach” us the 5Es of lesson planning and rarely do it themselves.

  5. Katie F

    I think my biggest complaint about TFA induction/institute was that it rarely felt practical. Reflection is well and good, and I do think it’s important, but I think the reflection can be infused in into a pragmatic task. I walked out of induction absolutely CHAFING against what I perceived as the “TFA” mode of doing things. I wanted to actually do things, not just think-pair-share about what might possibly be a good idea to do. I don’t know, I think it is a tough line to walk for TFA, in that they are trying to get everyone to embrace a certain ideology. But at the same time, they’re preparing people for a challenging profession, and I don’t know that they always strike the right balance.

    • oniongirl

      Aww, it means a lot to me that you’re posting in Puerto Rico! Thanks, Katie! This is what I’m seeing in a lot of people, especially today. I also understand that fine line, and I don’t know if something like a menu of options would benefit everyone or be a type of “you must do this” sort of thing. I think it’s the latter. And, I’ve met a lot of your new coworkers. Friendship is deep into TFA! I couldn’t remember until I thought of you and where you’re going. Four new ones. :D You’ll be the veteran now.

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