The blessing and the curse of Institute is the sheer number of human beings whose job it is to help you in some way, shape, or form. It’s like acronym city and everyone has something to offer!
That being said, you’ve been around for a few weeks (which, in Institute time, is a few months) and it’s high time you get friendly with an awesome person: your SOM (School Operations Manager). (Note: If you’re not at a National/Centralized Institute, your SOM may have a variety of creative and unique terms, but this person essentially helps run operations at one or more school sites.)
So, you’re lesson-planning. Maybe you feel like you’re about to have a breakdown. Your Corps Member Advisor is there to help, of course, but if you want another way to have it explained or just need some sass in your life, read on!
First, some perspective on who the heck I am:
Hi, I’m Blair! I’m a Corps Member Advisor at the Tulsa Institute (woot!), and I finished up TFA in the Twin Cities region about a week ago (yup, I’m a newly minted alum… yikes!).
Now, let’s break down lesson-planning in three quick-and-dirty concepts:
1) Start your lesson plan by thinking about WHAT kiddos can DO and HOW they will explain your objective after you’ve taught them. If you’re teaching multiplication, what will it look like for your kiddos to DO the math, show their work, and explain their answer? This is why your exemplar response is so important. Side note: If YOU don’t know the skill, you’ll have the darndest time teaching it. Make sure you can explain the skill backwards and forwards. Try explaining it to your beau, your mom, or a friend via phone—if you can do it there, you can teach it!
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.
“This is really important, so I want to be sure everyone is remaining engaged. I know we’re tired, but you’ll need this through your two years of teaching!”
During Institute (and Professional Saturdays), this phrase was invoked time and time again. Often, it cued a silent ugh in my head as I struggled to stay awake. The thing is, I didn’t think the session I was sitting through was unimportant, but I just struggled with the fact that everything was given A-level status. As hard as I wanted to be a great teacher, I couldn’t make all of the advice and strategies I got a priority.
But two years later, while reflecting on my time at Institute, there’s one thing that I do wish I had given A-level status. Interestingly enough, it was one thing that wasn’t given very much exposure during my two years as a CM:
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.
In the urgency and stress of trying to run a college-bound classroom, I’ve often found myself acting as a small “no” factory. No bathroom breaks. No red ink. No choosing your own partners for group work. It’s like that scene at the beginning of Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan’s character is barraged by negative answers.
Of course, I had a reason behind each one. We don’t have time to waste, I need to be able to grade work, and I know which “work partners” will get off task.
But the power of yes, when wisely used, has infinite potential.
“Every bulletin board, every binder, every sign you make, should be thought of with student success in mind.”
As I attended my first staff-training weekend for Teach For America institute in Tulsa, one of my supervisors emphasized the intense focus on student achievement, and I was reminded of just how much responsibility I had gotten myself into for the summer. If I chose the wrong bulletin-board color, student learning could slide! (OK, maybe not—but there was still a lot of pressure!)
When I finished institute last summer, I knew I’d be working at institute the first opportunity I got. That electric environment was calling my name, even as I swore I was so over it.
There’s something in the air around institute. Maybe it’s the fear excitement of the new CMs, or the supreme knowledge of the veteran faculty advisors and seasoned Institute staff. Or the feeling of community that can be fostered in the copy center at 11:48 p.m. (You know, the early crowd.)
That said, the biggest downfall I found in Institute was the sheer amount of things that were thrown at me. If I could remember half of what I was told, I’d be the world’s greatest teacher.