Institute Staff Members: We’re Not Magical Robots of Awesome

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

Two years ago, when I was starting Institute as a brand-new corps member, I had many questions and loose assumptions about what the experience would be like. I was curious about housing, my students, the training, and just how exactly I would master the art of lesson planning and behavior management in a few short weeks.

Most of all, though, I had questions and assumptions about who worked at Institute. In a nutshell, I assumed that everyone on staff—from the School Director to the School Operations Manger to my Corps Member Advisor—was a Magical Robot of Awesome.

Sure, they weren’t necessarily perfect, but I just assumed (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) that they were really, really good at everything education-wise, and that’s why they were there to drop knowledge on me.

Because of this, I often internalized my Corps Member Advisor’s actions, which I thought were the actions of a really, really good teacher. Remember being in, say, sixth grade and analyzing your teacher’s every action? Why’d she dress up today? Why did he create a new seating chart? What does she do on the weekend?

Yeah, I was sort of like that with my CMA.

Some of the things I observed her doing included:

  • Sending emails out at 3:30 a.m.
  • Dealing with a student’s negative behavior in a very specific way that worked well with her personality.
  • Speaking with a particular intonation when leading an example lesson.
  • Drinking coffee (really!).

I internalized all of these actions in some way or another. It was time to become a great teacher, darn it, and she had all the secrets! After all, some of these were really cool skills. Her behavior-management tool—writing an encouraging Post-It note for a student who has his/her head down—is one that I still use.

But I also began doing the not-so-great things that she modeled. 3:30 a.m. emails? That is not a prerequisite to being a really, really good teacher or a Magical Robot of Awesome. Using a certain intonation when teaching? That’s inauthentic and your kids will see right through it. And for the record, I still don’t really like coffee.

It might seem silly that I so closely copied my CMA’s behavior, but Institute is a really vulnerable time. You’re putting on your teacher shoes for the first time, you’re living in a dorm, it’s always hot, and there’s a lot at stake with your children. In such a context, you’re ready to take any skill that appears to relate to good teaching and use it.

This summer, I’ll be returning to Tulsa Institute for a second year (last year, I was a School Operations Manger, and now, I’ll be a Corps Member Advisor). So I can say this with authority, and be really, really clear: Institute staff are not Magical Robots of Awesome. We, like you, are generally pretty awesome folks. I’d say we have some really magical qualities. But we are human beings. We make many mistakes. Our advice is not always perfect or relevant for every corps member or every situation.

What we do share, though, is an undying love for our children and a really, really strong desire to rally together to bring them the best possible education. Next time your insert-Institute-staff-role-here doesinsert-specific-personality-specific-action-here, keep in mind that this person is just a human who is neat but imperfect. Then, discern if it’s a skill you want to use or rather something wholly unrelated to excellent teaching. Chances are, you’ll know the answer, because you’ve got some magical qualities, too.

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