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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 05 2012

A reflection of the reflection: A Delayed Re-telling of Institute and a Preface to Orientation

It’s been a while, friend!  “Busy-ness” is always the best excuse to fall off the face of the planet, especially as a TFA Corps Member. But really, it was because I didn’t know how to write about something as dense and impenetrable as the event known as “Institute”. That five week experience  is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and in a GOOD GREAT AWESOME POSITIVE CRAZY type of way.

I am by no means the same guy that I walked into Institute as, yet I am very acutely aware that I still have a lot of growing and ‘figuring out’ ahead of me.  As I prepare to move into my new place in B’more, attend TFA Orientation, and get introduced to my new school and classroom, I know there can be something worthwhile shared about that five-week whirlwind of an experience.  I’ll limit it to three BIG idea buzzwords I kept thinking about:

1. Pride

2. Excuses

3. Silence


1. Pride

Be proud of your students. They are not dumb. They are not incapable. They are not weak.  I cringe now every time I hear someone say something negative about their students’ performance or character.  One way I kept sane during my really, really, hilariously short teaching career thus far is by being PROUD of  my students’ strides in development, content knowledge, character, outlook.  It may seem bleak at times and it may seem like they aren’t learning ANYTHING, but that feeling passes because as soon as I saw a correct answer on an exit ticket, a smile as a student reacts to understanding a concept, a focused stare as a student absorbs a concept, I was given that fuel to keep going.  Being proud of those small accomplishments seems to me the thing that will get you through the lesson, the day, the month, the year, the life of teaching.


2. Excuses

“The school culture here sucks”. “I just don’t have the time with all these useless sessions to do my lesson plans right”.  “I can’t concentrate or focus when I eat the same crap food every single day”. “My SMT (student mentor teacher) has never given me feedback”. “My kids have IEPs”. “My kids just don’t care”.

The list goes on and on.  Hey, I complain sometimes.  We all do at some point or another.  But complaining to make an excuse that will “validate” how YOU are performing in YOUR classroom is never, ever, ever going to do you, your kids, or your peers any good.  There will be plenty of chances during Institute to complain, and it’s guaranteed that everyone will partake.  But after a bad lesson, it’s no one’s fault but YOURS.  That is the teacher’s role and responsibility. No one else’s.


3. Silence

There’s a surprising phenomenon I discovered (sarcasm): When you put a bunch of confident, ambitious, competitive corps members in one room with an open forum for opinions and thoughts and feelings, A LOT of word vomit occurs.  LOTS.  Sometimes, it’s from the multiple usual suspects. The talkers that talk. I definitely have that tendency sometimes (why else would I have a friggin blog on TFUs?!). But the gems, the true gems of the opinions/thought shares/emotional anecdotes, come from the one’s who stay awake, listen intently to others, and stand up just that one time to say a few words.  That silence is unwavering and priceless.  Silence will do a Corps Members a ton of good.  Institute is definitely a place where you can  share your own opinions at will, and you should, but the purpose of the whole thing is for you to learn, absorb, and reflect.  I noticed too many times when a person was receiving feedback from a CMA (corps member adviser) or another corps member and then tried to defend themselves for what happened in their classroom, over-explain their intentions, or just complain some more.  Institute is all about FEEDBACK.  If you receive constructive criticisms about your classroom/teaching/attitude, just soak it in by being SILENT, not defensive, not chatty, SILENT.


Those three words are also tenets that I will bring with me as a teacher in my classroom in Baltimore.  That silence is something I’ve grown to really value in my life because it magnifies the interactions I have with the environment around me and tends to keep me more aware. That no-excuse lifestyle is such a simpler way to live and to be at peace.  And pride. Pride is what will get me through my worst days, and will propel me to work even harder during my best.

Now, back to the NBC-televised, really-really-delayed, Olympics!

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