Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 15 2010

May 8 so long ago…

As a friend pointed out this week, my last post in early May was indeed so long ago!  Since then, I’ve graduated, completed induction and institute with TFA, and found a place to live here in Atlanta.  It’s been up and down, and very busy at points, but certainly a joyful journey thus far.   Here are a few thoughts from induction and institute; in teaching as in traveling, each moment brings something so completely new and oftentimes emotional that it’s impossible to relay everything, even if I did write at more frequent intervals (as I’ll do moving forward…Thursday may be the chosen day)

Induction: Regional Supports
First a little on induction, the week when corps members assigned to Atlanta first came together  in Atlanta (CMs in other locations went to their respective regions).  Induction was the week I began to really know and trust the Atlanta TFA staff.  There is so much passion in that group who puts in countless hours to get us in front of children and qualified to be there.  I’ve also grown close with a number of the transition team leaders, 09 corps members who volunteer to facilitate groups for us newer teachers; from talking about their classroom experiences to taking us around town, it’s been refreshing to have such support in our peers.  I feel great about being here in Atlanta surrounded by a mission-driven staff and corps.

Induction: Help!  What do I bring?
That said, throughout induction I had doubts about my role in TFA and in TFA Atlanta.  So many of our corps is from Atlanta or Georgia more broadly, transitioning to teaching from other jobs, serving children of their own race and background (not necessarily true of TFA more broadly)…I wondered at points what I brought to the table and if elements of my identity would hinder my students’ progress.  I realized, fortunately pretty quickly, that I needed to be confident in myself and my ability to contribute if I was to cultivate the relationships and skills that are crucial to facilitating a great education for students here in Atlanta.  So, I bring my passion for great education, and in some cases my naivete, as I enter APS as a middle school math teacher (I’m so excited to be doing so!)

Institute: Collaboration and Common Ground
After a quick Atlanta-only induction, corps members from New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Hawaii, and a handful of other regions joined us in Atlanta for institute.  Institute was challenging in some of the ways I expected and in some I did not even recognize at first.  For one, we taught summer school as members of a collaborative made up of four corps members.  I anticipated this might be hard for me, and it started out that way; as very new and eager to please teachers, but with different experiences and outlooks that brought us to TFA, it was difficult making those first management and investment plans as a group.  While we made some mistakes, we certainly learned from them and our group eventually became a pretty smoothly working unit: our students created the common ground that brought us together for them.

Institute: Student Achievement and Student Achievement
Our goals during institute were student achievement and student achievement.  I really liked these seemingly non-sensical, but actually very logical, goals.  The first student achievement refers to the summer school students, most of whom had failed high stakes tests and needed to retest at the end of summer.  The second student achievement, as you might guess, belongs to our students this fall and moving forward.  Balancing these two goals is a delicate task; in many ways, I think I did better meeting that second student achievement goal.

Every teacher has to have a first class and it’s frustrating to know that our learning curve in many ways affects their learning.  There’s summer school data I didn’t exploit to its fullest, information about learning styles and interest, academic strengths and weaknesses that I now see as powerful tools for this fall.  When I’m tempted to feel bad about not capitalizing on a student’s passion for art or for music, I put those thoughts to what I can control: my classroom practices this fall.

Teaching: “I want” to learn (folds, songs, and blue words)
I’m looking forward to planning with my students in mind.  Their achievement follows from their engagement, and knowing what will engage them is key.  One of my big take-aways from institute is that any topic can be fun.  Certainly some topics are more clearly linked to the real world, or I already have an idea on how to teach them in a joyful way.  But, take any topic and make a rhyme or a song…a little four-line song can transform an otherwise average class.  Other tools work too.  One day I folded paper to get through some notes before revealing an activity.  The students were so intrigued to see what was hidden beneath the fold; what was simply practical to me was simultaneously engaging to my students, and another teacher complemented the folded paper as if it were intentionally designed to up student engagement.  Another class, I did a “blue word” powerpoint, something which I’d like to try again.  I simply imbedded some words (related to the topic) in blue text throughout my powerpoint and timed them to disappear within a matter of seconds.  Students had to watch for and list these words, and we discussed them at the end.  What a simple game to get eyes on the board!  Having only done it once, I don’t know how much it truly affected learning or retention, but it’s exciting to know that some very simple techniques can have a transformative affect on a classroom of squirrely pre-teens and teens.

Teaching: High Expectations and Each Student a Person
Speaking of my students, they were a very fun and educational first group.  I’ve learned that I have to have high expectations for behavior, or the students will sink to low expectations quite adeptly, like a liquid filling whatever container set out for it (there’s a reason I’m not a science teacher, but the idea’s there, anyway)  I learned too to be very cognizant of my students’ unique needs and triggers.  One of our students only wanted us to approach him from the front, with another we designed a “cool-down” signal when she was frustrated by the class or her classmates.  One of our students loved to draw, another enjoyed writing on the board every chance she got.  Individual time with the students helped me to convince them of their ability and simultaneously gather tools to push them in the future.

Teaching: Continually Increase Effectiveness
I know I can do even more this fall to support my students and their learning, and I’m looking forward to many many more lessons from the classroom!  One lesson I’ve learned is that success in this business of leading students to high academic gains is not guaranteed.  I’ve been a student for so long that I know pretty well the recipe for success.  As for teaching, TFA has given me some “ingredients” for success (the Teaching as Leadership rubric) but it’s all so new, and will be for a while.  I’m actually looking forward to failing and resetting course but only hope I see the missteps quickly.

One day, all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

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    a Teach For America teacher's blog

    Metro Atlanta
    Middle School

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