Musings of a veteran teacher joining TFA

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 27 2012

The End of Institute 2012, Philly

I haven’t written in over two weeks.  It’s easy to not want to look at your computer when you get done with all that you have to do at institute.  Unless you actually have time to watch a youtube video or two or catch up on Netflix, you really don’t want to do much.  Two weeks ago was a long time ago.  Not only that, but it’s taken me three days to get this written between all the “reflection” and getting ready for leaving.  Today is the last day of Institute, and I am glad.

Two weeks ago, I still had so much lesson planning to do.  We were to turn in two lesson plans on Tuesday, two on Thursday, and one on Friday.  That doesn’t sound like much if you’re used to lesson planning.  However, all of our worksheets, plans, etc., had to be completely aligned to the objective and the test question daily. That meant that what you’d normally do in a school of finding a great lesson plan online and using all the information from that online lesson in your class.  You may tweak it a little bit, but the overall hours put in is minimal.

That’s not the case here.  We have a very specific goals in mind, with very specific questions we need to ask the kids so they get familiar with the types of questions on the test.  In some ways, we are teaching the test.  But it’s more like teaching how to take the test first, which has always been a problem around city schools.

Another reason I haven’t blogged much is because I have since made some great friends with whom I went to dinner with, met at breakfast with, and actually did things on the weekend.  So instead of me hanging around by myself and contemplating how things are going and what is happening (or not happening) I ended up having things to do.

I was also happier.  I tend to write when I’m not happy to reflect on what’s happening and spell it out for myself.  I used to blog regularly, about annoying things or things that made me laugh.  This time, I ended up hanging out again, talking to friends when I was frustrated.  It’s not a bad thing.  It just means I didn’t reflect a whole lot on paper to share.  I shared in other ways.

There are things that have bothered me while I’ve participated in Institute.  There’s two main things:

The first is that there’s ageism going on.  In the past I’ve seen corp members look me up and down and then dismiss me right away without talking to me.  It really happened a lot over the weekend.  The two of my friends who stuck around over the weekend made plans to go to a tailgate party before a Phillies game.  It ended up being like a college party.   It was okay, I enjoyed watching people and relaxing.  When the party was winding down, a large group of Baltimore people that I didn’t really know suggested going to Liberty Hall and seeing the Liberty Bell.  I was in pain that day and was walking slower than most people do.  I can be tenacious and not give up, but the pain in my ankles and knees does slow me down that way.  I almost felt like they were annoyed I wasn’t walking as fast as they were.  But they didn’t wait up.  Funny, but I was only a little bit behind them.  I didn’t say anything, and at first it wasn’t bothering me.  It was a slight, but it was something I expect moving slowly.  What did bother me was the final disregard that happened later that evening.  One girl asked me directly what we did that evening and why we got back so much later than them. The three of us had left them to do our own stuff as they wouldn’t wait around and had a GREAT time!   They ended up going back to campus earlier and hanging out there.  If there had been a fun competition, we would’ve won the game.  So, she asks me the question, I start to talk, and she promptly ignores me and starts talking to her friend sitting right next to her.  That angered me.

Part of the corp is being HUMBLE.  I have not always seen that in a good percentage of corp members, even in the past.  That’s not saying majority of the wonderful people I’ve met in the past and future are not humble.   It is saying that those people who have a “Holier than thou” attitude stick out like a sore thumb when I meet them.  I have a lot to offer people.  I’m willing to share everything I have.   However, if you dismiss me, I’m not willing to help you out.  You’ll have to try a little harder if you want my assistance.  I don’t like to hold a grudge, and I know the vast majority of people here are 22 or slightly older.  It still is annoying.  The corp needs a focus group that has people who are older than the majority being able to talk to each other.   We have the same problems.  I’ve talked to others, and it’s a fight for every person who doesn’t get to know you.

The second thing that has not really bothered me personally, but has bothered other people more is those of us who have teaching experience are sometimes  seen as having “cheated” at Institute.  WTF!  Someone told me this in a conversation yesterday while we were supposed to be reflecting on our experience.  I also think that this should be a focus group: those who have teaching experience.  We need to be able to talk together to be able to handle the stigma.  It shouldn’t even be a stigma.  I’m fortunate.  The group that I’ve been working with at Gratz High has been so supportive.  They ask questions, get my opinion, and make me feel like I’m a valued member of the group.  Why does TFA have to even have that set up?  If you were a member of TFA and then came back to Institute, you are very respected.  Why would being a traditional teacher who wants to make themselves a better teacher by going through TFA be considered a negative thing?  TEACHERS are being attacked in politics.  It doesn’t matter which kind (traditional vs. non-traditional) of teachers are trying to fight the good fight.  I stayed in Baltimore in a failing school because I felt I could do the best work there.  I have had opportunities to go to a “better” school.  I’m committed to my school.   Very few people doubt that.  Those that do, do not know me at all.

I know how other “traditionally” certified teachers feel about Teach for America.  That is both positive and negative.  I could list out the positives and negatives.  There are generalities about TFA teachers.  You may be a certain way, but some of that is based on how you act, how you lead, how you react, how you plan.  TFA lauds that we should regularly “make relationships” with our students so we can make gains.  I say we should also make as many relationships with the people we work with, regardless of who they are and where they come from.  The young-uns are willing to do that with people of their own age, regardless of gender, class, or race, but if you’re older or already have experience … you’re questioned.

TFA needs more traditionally certified teachers who want to get that amazing training that you can’t get anywhere else.  The criteria to getting into TFA should be a bit more specific to that group, however.  It’s great that you had an amazing education.  But what needs to be asked from a traditionally certified teacher is, what gains do you want to make in your classroom?  How will TFA support your goals as a teacher, specifically?  Why should TFA give you the opportunity to get this training?  Traditionally certified teachers are already leaders.  Yes, TFA should look for the best leaders, of course.  I don’t know how the entrance process should change compared to traditional TFA corp members.  It needs to be fine-tuned.  I thought it was silly to come up with what kind of leadership roles I had 10 years ago in college.  It does say what kind of person I am, but it definitely doesn’t tell you what kind of teacher I am.  They almost should ask for a reference or two from a student if you have taught before.   Maybe a reference from a coworker who knows what kind of person you are with the students as well as your drive to make yourself a better teacher?  I don’t know, I’m just throwing ideas out.

Let me be clear on another point: I don’t think that TFA should get rid of the alternative teacher selections for new teachers.  I love that that is an option for people.  I would’ve totally gone that route if I had known about it after college.  I would’ve actually diversified my education just a little bit more and got that chemistry minor instead of nearly getting the chemistry minor because I had to finish up my education classes.  It gives some great opportunities for many people and I think the kids appreciate the sincere Teach For America teachers, such as myself and my cohort.

I’m tired of reflecting about my experience in a very structured way.  It’s been silly the amount of reflection they are making us do. I think this entire week has the word “reflection” somewhere in the agenda for the day.  It’s funny.

On a much more positive note, my partner in crime, Noah, was awesome.  He said at the beginning that he wanted to fail so he could learn in class.  He really never failed.  The one time he could’ve I did save him, and I apologized to him about it.  However, I did apologize and we fixed any issues we had in class.  I took a backseat and supported anything he wanted to try, and vice versa.  I hope that he learned something from me, but I’m not going to ask him. I admire how he knew that I generally knew what I was doing, although he definitely knew more chemistry than I remembered.  It worked well.

I hope all my friends in my core member advising (CMA) group do well.  I made some great friends, and it’s a very tough experience that we all go through together. It is no wonder that so many people become best and longtime friends.

Things I will miss (but not really at all): The sandwiches, the bus ride, the dorms, the beds, the 5 am wake up, the cafeteria, the walk to the cafeteria, how the dorms are “DRY”, multiple reflections on everything, hot rooms, sore ankles, “We have ___ days left!”, the Hulk, Key Points in Lesson Planning

Things I will actually miss: The people in no particular order: (Noah, Elizabeth, David, Jessica, Molly, Maria, Josh, Safia, Jackie, RBK, Debbie, Berretta and Berretta’s Grandmother); Relaxing Diff time; Smartfood; sticky notes; Our secret quiet place to work (shh!); Dinner with friends; Cards Against Humanity; The Resource Room; Eastern State Penitentiary; Great parking spots; making a video about Berretta’s Grandmother; Sam the SOM’s song; good conversations; thoughtful presentations; Josh’s “I’ve got a ball game”; and the round circle writing to each other

Next up: some relaxing time.  I’ve got one whole week to relax before I have meetings at my school.  I need to decompress.  Today was bittersweet as always for leaving good people.

5 Responses

  1. LS

    Thanks for sharing your reflection. Quite enjoyable and spot on. Sorry the tailgate became a college party…but sometimes it’s nice to relive my glory days!

  2. Leah

    Can’t wait to hear all about Institute when you come back…also, looking to ‘glean’ some of your data tracking knowledge

  3. Meg

    I would think the “cheating at institute” idea is 99% jealousy/self-consciousness. I think you’ll agree that there’s a competitive nature to Institute in terms of the TAL Rubric and student scores, so your success is probably frustrating for some teachers who are having their first hours in the classroom and struggling immensely.

  4. Thank you for blogging! So great to get your perspective in here. As a CMA and someone who’s been thinking about the Institute experience a lot lately, I love your ideas.

    I’ll be sure to keep up to see how your year goes! :)

    • AND I was about to leave a comment on your first entry but your comments are off, so I’ll just add on: I’m from Novi, MI– I have friends and family in Detroit & am increasingly interested in it as an area of growth and potential place to move to. I teach in rural Arkansas right now, so it’d be a big change, but I’m getting increasingly interested. Maybe not to continue as a teacher, but something very tied into the school district.

      Just sayin, added interest!

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