Week 1 Down (Or Week 1 All Over Again)

 

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I can’t believe it, but week one of institute is in the books. At first each day felt super slow, but then midway through the week we started hurtling toward the finish. We’ve had workshops on lesson planning, diversity, “vision-building,” rule-setting, classroom management and more, but starting tomorrow we will have to take that week of learning and put it into practice. It’s odd, just as we have gotten used to the pace of the days here, everything is about to change. It’s almost like we are starting over again. We’ll teach from 8-1 or so, and then we will have workshops after that, and come back to the dorm and lesson plan after that. Everyone here is always talking about stressful all-nighters; I haven’t experienced that at all, but maybe Monday is when things start to get challenging to that degree. 

That hardest thing for me right now is lesson-planning. Every single one of our lessons has to have a script for what the teacher is going to say, and a column parallel to that with the anticipated student response. I have never done anything like that for lesson-planning, and it is taking a lot of getting used to on top of not being sure about exactly how to teach math. I guess that’s the upside, though; forcing me to write a script makes me think harder about how I am going to present every single problem and operation, rather than leaving it up to chance in the classroom. 

We met our faculty advisor, Ms. Neil, on Friday. She has been a teacher for eleven years. She emphasized one thing, and it’s the same thing our workshop instructors have been emphasizing: consistency. Specifically, consistency when it comes to classroom management. That might be one of our biggest challenges since working in a group of four means each teacher will have to be on exactly the same page about the ways we discipline and reward. If one of us is doing something different, it could undermine all of us. I’m interested to see how co-teaching is going to go. 

I asked Ms. Neil what her first year teaching was like. “Hell,” she replied. Is that scary to hear? Sure. But I can also see that Ms. Neil is a great teacher. Our summer school principal came around while we were talking to her and said she’s amazing at questioning, differentiation, classroom management. Even though “hell” is a scary word, it’s comforting to know that Ms. Neil was there, and now she’s here. I’m not expecting to be great right away, but I have to tell myself I can get to great. In fact, they are big on mantras here at institute. Maybe I’ll make that my personal mantra: Get to great. 

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Day 3

So, we are through day three, although each day feels way longer. So far we have been attending workshop after workshop, so the day doesn’t move very quickly although we do get a ton of information. Somehow a day of sitting in workshops can feel exhausting, but I’m trying to take as much from them as I can. The biggest changes from day one are that now I have a better understanding of who exactly I’ll be working with this summer. I’ve met the teachers from my region, my advisor, my advisement group, the team that runs the school I’ll be teaching at, and the team I’ll be teaching with. I co-teach with three other teachers, and that will be one of the most interesting aspects of this process since I have never had to do much collaborative work. Even in college, I always convinced my professors to let me out of group work. It’s interesting to start to see what kinds of work styles my co-teachers have and what they seem to prioritize here. Although working in a group makes things like lesson planning go a little slower, it will help prepare me for co-teaching in fall.

It’s interesting, right now everything is moving at a glacial pace because we basically sit in one place all day listening to lectures, but when we start teaching on Monday I think everything will ramp up really quickly. We will be teaching and having meetings and attending workshops and lesson planning each day, so things will go from really slow to super-fast. Even though I’m extremely nervous to teach math, and am already having trouble with the curriculum, I am excited to meet our kids and start teaching. I am here to become a better educator, and once we start I’ll get feedback from my kids, my co-teachers, my advisor, the district teacher who will watch our group, and more. It seems like a lot, but that’s the only way to improve. Also, over the past three days it has been so easy to focus on myself and my troubles and anxieties here, and I expect that once we start teaching it will be really stressful, but my focus will shift away from me and onto my kids.

The best part of yesterday was definitely a visit we got from Ms. Darren, a veteran teacher who is running the summer school program. She’s not at all affiliated with TFA, and she’s been working in Chicago schools her whole career. She gave us great, extremely useful advice, which was awesome after hours of theory, but more than that, she just had this warmth and toughness when she spoke to us that screamed “teacher.” You could see exactly how she operates in the classroom, and as she stood and spoke her genuine love for the career was so inspiring. Everyone who works at TFA is extremely encouraging and peppy and young. They are constantly smiling and reminding us about “this movement.” They are motivating, but Ms. Darren brought a different, more genuine sort of energy. She’s the kind of teacher I aspire to be.

Day 1 Down

Well, day one of institute is down, and it was much harder than I expected it to be. Today should have been simple: check in on campus, move into the dorm, meet fellow corps members, get a good night’s rest. Although we do have an early wakeup call tomorrow, today there was no lesson planning or grading to slave over. It should have been an exciting first day.

So why did I end up crying through most of it?

I enjoyed my morning in Chicago. I walked around the downtown area and though I missed New York, I was relaxed and excited. The fear set in when I got to institute and saw that I had been assigned third-grade math for summer school. Math? It was the last thing I expected. I am horrible at math, and I hadn’t even considered the possibility of teaching it this summer. Challenging as the assignment may be, though, I know I will need to be able to teach math in fall, so why not start now? It shouldn’t have been a huge deal, but my insecurities worsened as I entered my hall, which buzzed with upbeat chatter. I introduced myself to my hallmates, who had already become fast friends in the room next door, but found myself wanting to retreat into my room (a single). Everywhere I went people seemed to already be clustered in groups. How had everyone already become friends?

I spent most of the day in my room trying to get a grip. It’s not like me to become that emotional and shy. My friends and family keep telling me what I know, rationally: that it’s natural to be freaked out in a new environment at first, that I’ll get more comfortable, that I will get busy and things will move quickly, that I will make friends eventually. But no matter how true all of that probably is, right now I feel like the kid who eats in the bathroom at lunchtime. I feel lonely, and pathetic for feeling lonely.

I have confidence in my ability to be a great teacher, and I can’t let this experience break that confidence. All of these nerves and fears and anxieties are completely new to me, but I am just going to take it one day at a time. I had a very challenging, alienating first day. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. No matter what happens, I have to commit.

My Kind of Town (Chicago)

I have just arrived in Chicago for my first day of teacher boot camp, as Diva calls it. Since I can’t check in at my dorm until 1:00, I’ve headed to the downtown area to pick up some essentials from Walgreens, Macy’s and the like. My first impression is of space. I am in the central touristy, shopping area, near Millennium Park, and the streets are nearly empty. Maybe that’s because it’s a Sunday morning and most of the stores are closed; whatever the reason, it’s certainly a lot different than New York. On the bright side, the weather is pretty and the lack of people makes it easy for me to haul my luggage around! Walking around midtown Manhattan with a huge backpack and a roller bag would be hell.

Soon I will check in on campus and move into my dorm room. I have heard so much about this boot camp, from “it was awesome!” to “it was torture!”, so I really have no idea what to expect. I have developed something very unlikely: a mantra. (If Diva is reading this, she is laughing. She knows mantras are not very Molly.) One thing I think I failed at as an after-school educator this year was establishing a guiding culture in my classes. Most of the time my students and I just got started on projects without much preliminary discussion about what values would guide us. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and in future years I hope to invest my students in what I’m currently calling the “Four Core Cs.” The mantra goes something like this:

Each day I will be…
1. Curious
2. Caring
3. Courageous
4. Committed

This summer, I envision the C’s manifesting as such: I will bring curiosity to every interaction at teacher camp, meaning that I will try to learn from and about my fellow TFAers, the staff at my school, and most importantly my students. I will be curious about Chicago and the community in which I’ll be teaching summer school.

I will care for my co-TFAers by offering support and encouragement. I will do the same for my students, and I will care for myself by getting rest and managing my time responsibly.

I will be courageous by challenging myself to use new strategies in the classroom, extending myself socially, and pushing myself to learn all the time.

I will commit myself to this experience fully, meaning that I will not let my skepticism take hold and temper my motivation.

I hope that writing all this down will serve as a reminder when I need it. Right now I don’t feel stressed. Mostly a travel-tired fog has settled over me, but I can’t wait to see what sorts of people I will meet later today and to find out where I’ll be teaching summer school.