Tag Archives: Institute
My 7th and 8th graders are a bit tougher sells than the elementary schoolers in the TFA weekly newsletter stories, but I already love them to death. I feel like I’m slowly building up great buy-in from these kids. The investment and management components seem so closely correlated to me, and I’m feel successful in a way I never did with my summer school students during Institute.
The students are also enjoying the lessons, and the reflective writing I’ve had them do has really impressed me. Teaching the same lesson multiple times in a row is another big difference from Institute. For me, it lets me see progress in an easily measurable way. (It’s so good that I would seriously suggest changing Institute to 2 lessons taught 2x a week rather than 4 taught 1x. It would also relieve some of the lesson plan load, which for me felt like it received a bit too much of my attention. The time spent lesson planning ate into sleep, which hurt my delivery for sure the next day.) I find that with repetition my lessons get tighter, the delivery gets better, the kids are more engaged and on-task. Fortunately–and fortuitously?–my classes rotate throughout the week so each one gets me at my best at some point.
Learning the names of 105 students is no small task, either! I’ve got the difficult students and the advanced students–sometimes one in the same–but those quiet, well-behaved middle ones blend together. “Aliyah? Wait, Alyssa?” I need to take more lunch duties so I can rehearse with the senior teachers.
Missing piece: classroom jobs. I need to put something together with job descriptions and applications. I think I have enough buy-in that the kids would want to interview. I’ll let you know how it turns out…
I should be lesson planning for the first week of school. It’s a little over a week away, and I’m starting to feel anxious about it. But instead I find myself wanting to crystallize some thoughts I have about Teach for America. Writing them down, just like talking to myself, helps me to logically sequence everything. So even if you weren’t here reading these words, I would still find the exercise useful. But–if we’re lucky–I can have my cake and you can eat it, too.
Teach for America (hence, “TFA”) traditionally recruits a swarm of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college grads. Freshly minted, they decide to jump back in to the world of education they have just left, albeit on the other side of the red pen. So it is understandable, dare I say predictable, that the people who join the corps come with a wide range of thoughts and thoughtfulness about pedagogy and motivations are for joining.
Thus TFA comes equipped with a delicious flavor of Kool-Aid that has been specially fortified with all your daily vitamins and minerals. I’ve been drinking this stuff for months, though, so the first couple of weeks at Institute were monotonous. In predictable bullet point format, here we go:
- You must have high expectations for all of your students and truly believe that all of them can and will succeed. Yes, this seems self-evident to me. People rise or fall to meet expectations. Give someone a week or a month to do something and that’s how long it will take. Or, more broadly, consider the question of free will. The only reasonable stance to take is that free will exists. If it does, and you’re right, then you will behave appropriately. If it doesn’t, and you’re wrong, you were still holding a belief that coerced your non-free will to act in the most potentially useful way possible. So set big goals, “ambitious yet feasible,” and truly believe that students will achieve them.
- The Academic Impact Model posits that Student Achievement is predicated on Student Actions, which are predicated on Teacher Actions, which are predicated on Teacher Knowledge, Skills, and Mindsets. Again, YES, obviously, how could they not? Clearly there will be external influences, but the most powerful and successful teacher will ensure his influence is the most potent. He will battle against negative influences with the knowledge of what is really at stake, and with a degree of conviction most students will not yet possess. It is the teacher’s job to model that disciplined attitude and effort can achieve whatever it is one desires. And it is the teacher’s burden to realize he is responsible not just for a student’s success but also a student’s failure.
- Once you have a goal in mind, backwards plan to ensure all your efforts will align with and lead to achieving that goal. This insight gets to the heart of TFA’s affinity for data. It is introduced to warn new teachers against the dangers of “activity-based” lessons, where the kids are having a great time but not really mastering the intended objective. For example, we could play blackjack in math class, but if we haven’t sufficiently worked out probabilities the strategy would be lost on students. But backwards planning goes deeper than that, too. It means starting with the goal in mind, knowing how you’ll assess that you’ve met that goal, and then breaking the goal into small chunks, each of which can itself be backwards planned.
These are just a few of the concepts that have been inculcated into corps members from the first days of Institute and run through the heart of most training I’ve since received. I wish I could go around the country giving all teachers a quick Check for Understanding to ensure they’re drinking the Kool-Aid. With schools already started or starting soon, it’s imperative students have thoughtful teachers who believe in and assume responsibility for them.
Back to the lesson planning!