Making the Desert Bloom

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 24 2012

My Love-Hate Relationship with Institute

I am pretty sure it’s normal to have a love-hate relationship with Institute, but I am going to lay out my thoughts here for the record. In true TFA fashion, there will be a survey coming tomorrow, and I am sure there will be some copying and pasting going on here as I don’t want to waste my time by writing out something twice.

Let’s start with the positives. The support network here is fantastic. Ranging from the head of Institute down to the operations interns, they truly have provided everything we need here in LA. From having multiple printers.copiers that work to decent food to reliable buses, the planning of Institute on the TFA side has been pretty remarkable. In addition, the facilities at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) are world-class, and our situation in LA is very comfortable especially when compared to other institutes. I will grumble and moan at some points, but this operation is truly first-class. I really commend the people on the staff side who spend their summers here in order to prepare the next generation of corps members. Of course most of them are getting paid, but it’s very obvious that people aren’t here for a paycheck just like most of the corps members. It’s the first time in my life where people are working a job for more than a paycheck, and that includes previous experience in the world of non-profits, campaigns, and government jobs.

The academic support we have in the classroom is also top-notch. My Corps Member Adviser (CMA) challenges me on a daily basis, and most of the sessions run by the Instructional Leaders (ILs) have been strong. My Faculty Adviser (FA) is an experienced teacher who picks up on things that I miss on a daily basis. I have quite the safety net here at Institute, which is fantastic. I enjoy being in the bubble, but I realize that’s not how the real world works.

This week is all about transitioning to the classroom for the fall, and I honestly don’t feel as though I am qualified from my training here to lead my classroom in four short weeks from now. I can execute a lesson for an hour, but can I write and lead lessons for six hours? The most students I have had in my class is 9, and that was only for one day out of the 15 so far this summer. How can I be qualified to teach 25 students? The difference is one-grade level bothers me a little bit, but it’s not the end of the world compared to the real issue here.

At Institute, we have learned how to manage behavior expectations in a classroom quite well. After a few weeks of practicing how to manage my classroom behavior and set up a decent lesson plan, I feel like I am finally starting to get the hang of things. I still need to sort out my inability to communicate consistently in student friendly language. (Let’s practice, I need to be clearer when I teach.) I feel like there are probably a few more obvious issues that I need to correct in my teaching approach, but since the goal of the program is to fix my biggest weakness, I don’t even realize those other weaknesses until someone points them out to me. With only 2 real lessons of Institute left, I don’t have enough time to find these weaknesses. But these weaknesses only mask the real problem.

Institute doesn’t you how to teach. I was warned about this problem ahead of time, and I didn’t do enough to prepare myself to actually lead and instruct a classroom. Once we get all of these important background issues out of the side, we have had 3 sessions in teaching phonics, 1 session in teaching upper elementary math, and 2 sessions in teaching elementary writing. How can I be prepared to teach a full-year classroom with such little prep in actually teaching? Even though my CMA likes to focus on methods, he doesn’t focus enough on methods for my liking. Even if I incorporate all of his suggestions properly, I still don’t believe I currently possess the pedagogical skills to be a transformational teacher at this moment. I do believe that I can gain these skills over the long-run, and I will dedicate my time to becoming a transformational teacher as soon as possible.

But after four weeks in the classroom, I feel like I am going to be doing a disservice to my students this fall. I am going to be a 5th Grade teacher that has never formerly taught writing or science before. How am I allowed to be teaching again? Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the mission of TFA. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be here. I believe that I am part of the solution, not the problem in the long run. However, in the short run, I simply need more training. In the next four weeks, I am going to try to do everything possible to make myself a better teacher for August 20th. No matter how hard I work, I know that I won’t be good enough for myself or my students on Day 1. That bothers me.

Institute does a remarkable job for a five-week program, but I would love another few weeks in the classroom (ideally teaching writing) to feel like I am more prepared to teach in Vegas this fall. I know that TFA listens to its surveys, but I also know that the time length of Institute can’t really change. However, I think that’s the only solution that could make us more prepared to be transformational teachers ensuring that all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.


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