MY LAST DAY OF INSTITUTE IS TOMORROW! I am really quite excited, even though I am surprisingly attached to my students that I have only known for 4 weeks. I ended up teaching at Mott Hall Bronx, which is a new summer school site for TFA this summer. I taught 25 students who all failed the Living Environment Regents Exam this past year. My first day teaching was a huge challenge. They did everything possible to push the limits and test me out, including refusing to take the diagnostic we had to give them, walking in and out of the classroom without permission and being plain defiant. Needless to say, after that first day, I felt pretty awful. Now here I am on my last day with the students and I am going to miss every single one of them and all of the things they say/do to make me laugh. It’s just CRAZY how that happened. I also want them to succeed on their assessment today SO BAD. I never thought I would be so emotionally invested in my students.
Anyway, I could ramble on about my lovely cherubs (as my collaborative partner, Sarah, calls them) all day, but I wanted to write this post to give a little insight on what this scary scary thing is that TFA refers to as “institute”. If you’re reading this post and are an incoming corps member or thinking of TFA, I hope this will give you a better picture of what it is all about.
If I could pick one word to describe institute it would be UNCOMFORTABLE. For me, institute wasn’t necessary difficult. Sure, I spent hours upon hours on lesson planning, making posters, calling parents, grading papers, revising lesson plans, printing, copying etc. etc. All of that work, however, was expected and starting week 3, I would say all of the work became pretty scheduled and easier to handle. What makes institute…well institute…is that you are simply uncomfortable at all times. You have to wake up super early to stand in a line to pick up yucky lunches all while trying to juggle your bag, lunch bag, poster paper, etc. etc. You ride on a bus to and from your school site in the NYC summer humidity (yes-I was on a bus during the record breaking heat wave of 2011). You share a classroom with many other teachers and feel like you never have the space or time to keep things organized. In my case, you do not have any technology…just a chalkboard. You deal with an unorganized summer school system in which case you combat chronic absences and what seems like a new student every day. You have to attend TFA sessions throughout the day when you would rather be organizing your classroom, putting procedural things in place or lesson planning/grading. Then, at the end of the day, you return to St. John’s, not your home, in which dorm life is just not glamorous. There is no wireless internet in your room. There is no internet at all at the school site. Your bed sheets are sticky from the humidity. And I could go on and on and on.
Institute is NOT hard. It is uncomfortable.
There are, however, MANY positives about institute as well. You really want to jump on TFA at first and criticize them about “wasting your time” with what seems like pointless sessions. This is partly true. I would have rather have spent our first week at institute doing concrete work, like preparing lessons and prepping for our classroom, rather than attend sessions on generalized topics. Frankly, I don’t even remember what those sessions were about. There are sessions, though, that do help you develop as a better teacher. You really learn some solid behavior management systems, how to plan your lessons based on end of class assessments and how to incorporate literacy into your lessons. You watch videos of expert teachers and pick up on little things here and there that you would really like to implement in your classroom in the fall. As far as the actual teaching goes. There really is no better way to learn how to be an effective teacher than to actually teach. I do feel like I have learned SO much this summer and have become a better teacher each and every day. As much as I complain about pointless sessions amongst other things, I am able to reflect upon where I started this summer and realize that I am taking steps in the right direction. I am CERTAINLY not a “good” teacher yet, but I am not a “bad” teacher either. Baby steps….
Another positive about institute is that you get to TEACH!!! You really will pour your heart into every lesson you write because you know that it will affect how well your students grasp the material. You want for them to grow so badly, and when they don’t understand an objective, you take it quite personally.
It was an interesting experience to say the least….very different than what I thought it would be.
1) Before you get to institute, pick your “unnegotiable”. This is something that you will do everyday (or week) NO MATTER how much work you have. For some people, they went to the gym everyday. For me, I watched sportscenter every night, even if I did some lesson planning during commercials. I know it sounds silly, but having that certain thing you do no matter what keeps you pretty grounded.
2) Stay organized! ….or else you’ll have your students’ papers all over your classroom, dorm room etc.
3) Pack lightly. If you’re like me and like to bring everything that you might possibly need, just don’t. It’s only 5 weeks. You can live without some things.
4) Your lessons will probably not be all that great if you’re planning them in the wee hours of the night. I’m a night person. In college, I preferred to do my work late at night, even if that meant compromising sleep. I’m telling you right now, I tried to do this during institute, and whatever part of the lesson I created at 2:00am was just awful. But I’m sure you’ll decide to learn this the hard way…
5) Go out!! I didn’t go out nearly enough. In fact, I never even did all the cool touristy stuff that you can do in NYC. Nobody knows anyone, so simply ask around about what people are doing for the weekend and ASK to tag along. I guarantee no one will say no.
For the sake of keeping this post somewhat short (somewhat), I’m going to wrap it up now. It’s been a crazy summer without a doubt, but I have met some awesome people and am excited to get started in CT!!