Institute Tips: Don’t Be Freaked Out

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

It was the first day of teaching for all Tulsa Institute corps members. This day had been coming for many months, since the moment they were first accepted into the corps.

All of this time boiled down to their first hour in the classroom. It’s a lot of pressure.

As a School Operations Manager, I was doing my rounds (most likely re-taping signage or putting up a bulletin board) when I saw him. Ross. Sitting outside of his classroom, on the floor. He wasn’t crying, but the look on his face communicated his utter inner turmoil.

I sat down next to him and asked what was up. He candidly told me how absolutely awful his first lesson had gone.

Ultimately, he played it out as a baseball analogy. When he had played in college, even if he had a bad game, he knew he could go back in the next game and make it up. He was not feeling that way about teaching.

As we talked through it, I tried to be cautiously optimistic, but I could also sense his very deep sadness and frustration. And because he’d had one week of actual training before getting to the classroom, I also felt a little guilty on behalf of Institute. Had we really prepared him the very best before he entered the classroom?

I think it was the toughest conversation I had that summer. I wondered about his future as a corps member, what more we could do to support him, and why he was having trouble.

Disclaimer: The next stage of this little tale is going to sound like a magical transformation. It was not.

As a School Operations Manager, I didn’t interact/observe actual classrooms all that often. I typically had a more zoomed-out focus on the school’s needs. But the next time I saw Ross teach, it was epic. Students were on task, they were engaged, and he was joking around with them as they talked through a story they were reading.

What I didn’t see were the many hours he had spent refining his lesson plans, his systems and expectations, and the hard work of the Institute staff members who coached him.

But what I did see was a person who cared very deeply about an issue, who refused to give up after falling flat on his face, and who was willing to put in very hard, very smart work to get better.

Near the end of Institute, Ross forgot his contacts at his dorm. As I was giving him a ride back, we talked about his students. His passion for them was clear, and it was one of the most validating conversations I had during Institute.

Institute definitely isn’t perfect, and I wrestle with that each summer that I work at it. However, my conversations with Ross have proven to me the possibility that exists in just a few weeks. It builds the foundational mindsets we take into our classrooms and beyond, and that makes it worth it to me.

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