Jacksonville Journey

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 21 2012

Pre-Institute Work

Every year before institute, TFA hands out homework. Last year, I received a 5 lbs box with all of the material printed in a specialize book, a workbook, a Teaching As Leadership book, and a CD with stories on it. Most of the material in the book (mostly copies from other books) was how to teach. I had begun learning about different issues in the classroom and how to be a better teacher. They were providing information about how teachers teach. It was a Godsend, because I was really worried about how to teach.


This year, I’m not sure if I received a box or not as I didn’t have them ship said box to my international address. But we got an email yesterday with access to the materials online. (Which I don’t really like, I can’t process information from a computer screen…) Anyway, they’ve decided to go more paperless this year, claiming it gives you more choice in how you process your information.


And then I got to this part of the letter:

While, formerly, this preparation centered around the technical aspects of teaching—like classroom management and lesson planning—we found that trying to learn the craft of teaching from a book (with no opportunity for practice) was not helpful to many people. That’s not to say teaching-related content is entirely absent from this year’s pre-work. Nor is it to say that we don’t see pedagogy as central to your training. In fact, Institute will focus on helping you grasp teaching’s nuts and bolts as you empower your summer school students to make incredible academic strides. But, you’ll notice that much of this work focuses on the systemic causes of the achievement gap and the kind of leadership that’s required to gain traction against them. We believe that by grappling with the causes and consequences of educational inequity and by considering who you are as a leader, you’ll arrive in the classroom better poised to fight for and with your students and their families.


I’m not sure I like this change. I feel that I liked the ability to learn some of the technical aspects of teaching before the 5 weeks boot camp called institute. They are asking for our feedback, and I will give them the benefit of the doubt. But I’m always a preparer and they’ve taken away my ability to prepare. I still have the stuff from last year, and maybe some of it will be the same.


Overall, maybe I’m just missing the memo where knowing possible causes of why my students might or might not be succeeding will help make me an effective teacher. I (currently) think that they should have focused on the actual aspects of teaching, because we would have had more than 5 weeks to process this.


Also included was this:

It’s worth noting here, too, that we want this spirit of collaboration to influence our ongoing work as a national community. While we’re really proud of what we’ve done for and with our corps members over the past two decades, we have sometimes failed to create an environment where our corps and staff members felt united in the same fight. At times, our corps members have suppressed their real thoughts, feelings, and selves—because they felt that doing “what Teach For America asks” seemed easier.


We’re working on this.


At times, our ideas about how to make your experience more personal, more honest, and more organic may be right on. At other times, we’ll surely miss the mark. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to take each one of us—corps and staff—working in step, to be the kind of community that fosters radically different opportunities for our students.


Food for thought…

6 Responses

  1. Pumped you posted this! I’m planning to be a CMA at the Delta institute this year, and I’ve curious to see what y’all come in with. (I’d hope they fill us in during our first training, which hasn’t happened yet, but it’s nice to be ahead of the game.)

  2. Meg

    I didn’t really think much of the old pre-institute work was helpful. It was pretty anecdotal and things like backwards planning and visions and goals are pretty meaningless unless you have some way to apply it to an actual classroom experience – not that 5 weeks in institute is necessarily equivalent to teaching, but its something.

    Maybe you have a really good understanding of the achievement gap and how it affects your (future) kids, but from my experience most ICMs don’t, and I think it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary, and will absolutely make you a better teacher.

    I do think practical teaching knowledge is really helpful, though, and it’s great you’re in search of it. My advice is to do as many excellent classroom observations as possible (maybe even to TFA classrooms if there are any near you because a lot of the jargon is the same), and to read “Teach Like a Champion”, possibly the best anthology of “teacher tricks” around.
    - Meg

    • make me shudder, and it’s nice to know the fienelg is mutual. I am convinced that I learned to write by reading voraciously from age 5 on and by writing long conversational letters to two out-of-state friends while I was in high school. Reading gave me the vocabulary and an intuitive grasp of sentence structure, and writing letters to people I saw only once a year (if that), forced me to write clearly in order to be understood. (We were all too cheap for long-distance calls!) I’m sure the grammer workbooks that I completed every year of my education didn’t hurt either. But without any formal writing instruction that I remember, I was rather taken aback when college professors said I wrote well. Didn’t everyone write that way?That reminds me, I meant to find my daughter a pen pal this year!

  3. CY

    I disagree with you. I felt that last year’s reading was done in complete isolation. Reading about teaching really didn’t help me at all when I didn’t have any frame of reference for it. I actually talked to my MTLD about the switch a few days ago and she said that they found that incoming CMs really needed to know more about the root causes of poverty and the achievement gap, hence the change.

    • My current garduate course is on the reading and writing connection, so I am reading a lot about the current trends and the research supporting writing. I think that the author touches on only one component of the writing piece that schools tend to focus on transactional writing, or writing to show what you have learned, but it is so important for our kids to engage and participate in poetic and expressive writing too. Megan, I agree that it is sad that our children are not being able to enjoy the reading and writing process. As parents, our children’s first and most important teachers, we need to find ways to put that joy back into learning for them!

  4. Amanda, that’s certainly poibssle when you have the child at home learning, but it’s extremely difficult when the child is in school, as I learned when I put my previously homeschooled older daughter in school in 2nd grade, at her request.After a long day of joyless learning, they have no desire to do anything more that looks to them like more joyless work.As for reading: When Olivia first went into public school 2nd grade, she was a little bookworm. Two months into school, she was happy to be read to, but she’d stopped voluntarily picking up books to read on her own. This child, who had formerly devoured books, now had no desire to pick up a book, saying Reading’s boring. That was when I knew she had to come home for good. (That wasn’t the only problem, but that was the straw that broke our desire for public schooling.) Now she is back to devouring books and happily diving into books of her choice. And because she isn’t pressured into writing specific things regarding what she’s reading, she keeps a journal and writes stories, letters, and reports of the things she is interested in all the time.Back to the topic of writing: unfortunately that is the sort of writing schools focus on, at least in my experience. Yes, in college they train you for all the best kind of teaching, but the practical reality is: that’s not reality. Most teachers are so busy teaching to the test -at least in public schools- that any creative learning goes out the window.I hope I haven’t come across as attacking you, Amanda. That’s not my intent at all. It’s an important topic; one that I feel strongly about, given our family’s personal experience with it, and then seeing friends going through the same struggle regarding writing.

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