I’m so glad that you’re joining the movement for educational equity. To tell you the truth, there’s a bit of an older-sibling syndrome within TFA, wherein previous corps years scoff at the apparent naivete of first-year CMs and grow somewhat envious of the attention that they receive. (I’m guilty of this myself.) Don’t let this discourage you. We need you—your energy, your enthusiasm, your willingness to talk about the big picture—to balance us out at the end of what has been, for most of us, a long and draining year.
In the spirit of big picture conversations, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you before you dive into the next few weeks. Most of you have graduated or quit your current job and are gearing up for Induction and Institute in your respective regions. As you enter the trenches of fighting the achievement gap in the classroom (most of you, for the first time), you will find yourself feeling exhausted, disenfranchised, and tangled up in details and deadlines. Below are some situations you’ll probably encounter, and the reasons why you can and must fight through them, from the perspective of an almost-former first-year CM and soon-to-be staff member at Institute.
- You will be bombarded by negativity at Institute. This is a fact. From snappiness at 6 am breakfasts, to complaints about the lack of time for lesson planning, negativity is the inevitable byproduct of putting hundreds of young, ambitious go-getters accustomed to success in a high-stress, close-quarters environment. For everyone’s sake, but especially yours and your students’, please try to stay positive. Dinner conversation turning into a complaint fest? Don’t join in—it might feel good in the moment, but the additional adrenaline and cortisol from the emotions that you invoke will only impair your digestion and make you feel worse later. Working on your third lesson plan for the night and feeling like the impossible is being expected of you? Stop, turn your laptop off, and step outside for a few minutes (or maybe even go for a jog). You’ll be surprised at how refreshed and empowered you feel when you get back to work. Above all, no matter what the situation is, remember that you joined TFA because you believe in the unlimited potential of students growing up in under-served inner city and rural areas, and the only way to unlock that potential is to bring your infectious joy and passion to the classroom.
- It will sometimes feel like TFA and its staff are out to get you. Another byproduct of bringing together so many independent, passionate individuals is that no system or instructional style (on TFA’s end) will have 100% buy-in. There will inevitably be push-back on lesson plans being “graded” on the Teaching As Leadership rubric, or school site staff seemingly randomly observing corps member instruction, or the copy room not being open all night. Trust me though, every single structure and staff position at TFA, both at Institute and beyond, is designed with your welfare and student achievement in mind. That’s not to say that things can’t be improved, and indeed, there was much to be desired when I went through Institute last summer. But my point is that corps members are not alone in facing these challenges. All of the staff members at Institute, from the venerable Senior Managing Director down to the lowly School Operations Manager (such as myself), want you to succeed in your classroom and will do everything in our power to make that happen. If you notice something amiss, try talking to a staff member about it. You’ll most likely find that he/she shares your frustration and wants to work with you to fix it. Seriously, try it sometime.
- You will probably not feel prepared for your first day in your Institute classroom, and especially for your first day in your placement school classroom. As I’ve mentioned before, there is no way that five weeks of training can hope to serve as a substitute for four years of education school. The scary reality is that you will spend more time in front of your students during the first three days of school in the fall than you will during all of Institute. But what you’ll come to realize is that (1) nothing prepares you for leading your own classroom like actually leading your own classroom (to wit, making Institute three times longer would not make you three times more prepared for the fall), and (2) five weeks is more than enough time to develop the right habits and mindsets, if not the hard skills, of teaching. If you go in and maintain a positive attitude, an open mind and heart, and a willingness to work with every possible person and resource to develop as an excellent teacher, then I can guarantee that you will not only effect significant growth in your classroom this summer, but also take those qualities to your placement region and play a major role in closing the achievement gap there.
Maybe these things sound obvious now. Certainly, they would have sounded obvious had I read them a year ago, during the lull before Induction. But human beings have a tendency to forget the obvious when stress and pressure build up, so I ask that you force yourself to keep this letter in mind as things start to go crazy over the next few weeks. I hope it makes your experience a little more enjoyable. Best of luck, and feel free to leave a comment with your email address if you want to talk further. And remember, we’re all rooting for you and your future students!
P.S. For those of you 2012s who have started a Teach For Us blog, don’t forget to activate your comment sections!