Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 18 2011

Hump week

Overheard in the dining hall
CM: “I just want to go to bed and fall into a coma so I don’t have to go to school tomorrow.”

The days are flying by now. I can hardly believe that just three weeks ago, I had never stepped foot in the classroom as a teacher, created a real lesson plan, or thought about students in the possessive (as in, “my students”). I can only hope that the last two weeks will be as formative and eye-opening as the first three.

So my students took their mid-Institute assessment on Thursday, and they rocked it. The average score was an 87%, but that’s misleading–the average would have been in the 90s were it not for the two students whom my co-teacher and I have been tutoring in the mornings. (They’ll get there eventually, I have no doubt.) After observing some of my fellow CMs in action and reflecting on the difference between the culture of their classrooms (mostly “interested and hard-working,” to use the language of the TAL rubric) and that of mine (“compliant and on-task,” sometimes even “apathetic or unruly”), grading the midterms was an encouraging reminder that I’m still making a difference for these kids. But I need to remind myself not to become complacent–not only do I have much to learn as a new teacher, but more importantly, my students have much to learn during the second half of summer school, since we’ll be covering geometry, and that’s where they struggled most on the diagnostic.

In terms of the day-to-day of teaching, I can definitely say that I’m improving, though perhaps not as quickly as I would like. I still struggle a lot with differentiation, and I tend to keep the rigor of the material at a level just difficult enough to challenge my weakest students. This usually means that A. (who scored 100% on the midterm) is often entirely disengaged during my lessons and barely engaged when trying to solve the “challenge” problems that I include on independent practice worksheets and exit slips. I also struggle with including proper checks for understanding (CFUs) in my instruction, and while I’ve figured out what doesn’t work (I gave up on both thumbs-up/thumbs-down and calling out the answer collectively after week one), I still haven’t figured what does work–namely, one or two methods that will reliably and consistently let me check that everyone in the class is following along with the material. I don’t have any grandiose expectations that I’ll figure these things out by the end of Institute, but I do hope that I’ll begin to gather tidbits of wisdom and best practices from staff members, fellow CMs, and personal experience.

Outside the teaching bubble (but not outside the TFA bubble–is it even possible to escape that at Institute?), I’ve been having excellent conversations with people about some of the things that I love talking about most: faith, theology, and the purpose of life. The conversations haven’t necessarily been excellent because they’ve been easy or agreeable–indeed, one of my most thought-provoking discussions was with a former believer who recently came to the conclusion that morality is subjective, the result of what has been deemed acceptable by society rather than based on an absolute moral code (namely, that of God), and had very compelling reasons for believing so, unlike most proponents of social and cultural relativists I’ve spoken to. The conversations haven’t necessarily been excellent because they’ve been uplifting–many people have struggled with their faith at Institute, whether because of the sheer time demands of teaching; or because of the work hard, party hard lifestyle of fellow CMs; or because of this, that, or the other reason. It’s hard to be a source of encouragement and wisdom when I too feel that same pressure to make God a second or third priority rather than to acknowledge and glorify Him in everything I do (or as Psalm 34 so eloquently puts it, “to taste and see that the LORD is good”). The conversations haven’t necessarily been excellent because they’ve been informative–coming from a school with a long-established and tight-knit community of believers, it’s been difficult to get through Institute without a close spiritual mentor teaching me about the Word on a regular basis like I’m used to.

So why have these conversations been excellent? I think it’s because they’ve given me a chance to live and speak out my faith in ways that I never have before. I admit that I sometimes don’t live up to Paul’s proclamation that “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) or Peter’s exhortation to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). But in the moments when I have let these verses guide my thoughts, words, and actions, they have not failed to bear fruit. My hope is that they would continue to do so, so that the comfort of God–the peace that transcends all understanding–would be present in my life and the lives of those I encounter during these arduous few weeks and beyond.

And now, to bring it all back to the reason why I’m here at Institute and Teaching for America for at least the next two years, here’s a passage from Mark 9:36-37 that I’ve been meditating on recently:

[Jesus] took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Happy Monday, everyone. See you on the other side of week four!

3 Responses

  1. guidedmetotennessee

    If you’re teaching math at Institute I’d suggest little white boards. They have them at Target or you can get them cut at like Home Depot. It’s a really easy way to see if the kids are getting the right answer (and if you make them show work you can see why they aren’t getting it right), and they love writing on them. You just have to be vigilant about making sure they’re only doing math on the whiteboards!

    • Thanks for the tip! The funny thing is that I actually tried using whiteboards today and they were awesome. Circulating around the room keeps them on task too. =]

  2. carol

    omg whiteboards are magic and they make EVERYTHING fun

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New city, same vision

Rhode Island
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