with love and squalor

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 03 2011

Now for a real post

I don’t really know how to describe institute.  Yes, it is a lot of work.  But I think most of us knew that it would be.  I have no complaints about the workload because, honestly, if you are efficient and productive, it’s not that overwhelming (but it is definitely a lot, and it is not always easy to be efficient and productive when so much of it is group work and so much if it is incredibly confusing and the templates you’re forced to use are hard on your computer/brain!).  I haven’t gone to bed past 11 once since institute started, but maybe I’m just weird like that.  I’ve always been an extremely, extremely efficient worker, and this is a skill I picked up in high school and hope to always be able to claim.  I do have a bit of a procrastination problem, but the set up of institute makes procrastination pretty much impossible since there are already so few workable hours in the day.  So, anyway.  I have no problem with the workload but it’s definitely strenuous.  There is just a LOT of information to learn and a lot that needs to get done.  I’m sure it will change on Tuesday when actual classes start.  Waking up early is definitely difficult (probably the worst part of institute) but there is so much folklore around sleep at institute that that shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

I am teaching pre-k (3) starting on Tuesday, which is definitely a new experience for me altogether.  It’s a little hard because in the ECE classes there are 4-CM collaborative groups sharing the same class, which means that there are four personalities and needs and desires to juggle at all times and it can be a bit of a challenge.  I think that our collab is working reasonably well and I am excited about our kids finally coming in next week.  We all definitely have really different learning/teaching/communicating styles, so I am a little worried about us being consistent with our 20 3 year olds (consistency is very important for young children, particularly with consequence and rewards systems).  I have learned SO much about classroom management/how to get through to young children this week that I don’t even know where to start.  I suppose the resonant points for me have been that many of these children will never have set foot in a classroom before.  They don’t know how to raise hands, line up, sit on the carpet, or hold pencils (for the most part; I’m sure some do know these things) because they’ve never been in school before and, duh, no one has taught them how to be in school.  At the same time, though, about half of our children will have already taken pre-k 3 and need to pass our summer assessments in order to progress to kindergarten (while the others are just starting early for the summer and will go into pre-k 3 in the fall).  This means that half of our kids are able to write their own names, while the other half doesn’t know how to hold pencils or write.  This is really freaking me out a lot but I seem to be the only one in our collab who is particularly worried about it, so maybe I’m just paranoid?

As for the other aspects of TFA, I’m still not really sure what to say and very little I feel comfortable putting on a public blogging network.  I will say I am really into TFA’s mission and message still, and I am really impressed with the methodology and many of my fears have been quelled by seminars and sessions and one-on-one conversations I’ve had with current CMs.  However, I will say that TFA’s “culture” is overwhelming to me, for sure.  I guess I would be considered kind of an “introvert” (although I’ve never seen myself like that before) and thus all of the high energy group bonding has really been hard to deal with for me.  I get literally no time to myself whatsoever (although I love my roommate, so no complaints about that) which is hard because I derive energy from being alone (and I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that).  I’m 21 years old and forgive me but I’m not really interested in rhyming cheers and chants and ice breaker games that have you writing a poem about your personality.  I appreciate the necessity of recognizing my role as a team member in this process, and I am a part of the team, or else I would not be here.  I don’t know.  I apologize for the negativity I’m displaying here and I know that my negativity about team spirit stuff is probably palpable to everyone around me in person at group events, too, which makes me really sad because I DO want to be here and I understand why team building is important.  It’s just that I went to a college where we didn’t really have sports teams, there was absolutely zero Greek life, everyone knew EVERYONE else (for a reference point, the number of Baltimore CMs is more than half the number of people who went to my entire college, and the amount of CMs at Philly institute is more than double the size), there was no such thing as a “business major” and we had like 20 school colors that definitely did not match in any way.  This has been a really hard adjustment for me (liberal arts schools are such a curse sometimes).  And I feel that TFA overdoes it, a lot, with the team building and I feel comfortable saying this (at least on the internet).  I can still be a committed member of TFA and of the Baltimore corps without shouting about it, right?  I am certain that TFA loses people like me over this every year, to be honest, because it’s alienating.  People who are dedicated and passionate and care about children and want to teach and love their region and like TFA holistically, but who are forced into believing that if they cannot fully embrace and integrate into TFA’s “corps climate” then they can’t be successful Teach For America corps members.  I feel that all of the encouragement for CMs to live and breathe together makes TFA such an insular, cult-like environment that it causes some CMs to lose perspective a little, and that scares me.

I just want to say that I am in no way trying to criticize TFA’s climate, really, because I know these team building exercises and all of this patting ourselves on the back is really important and necessary for some people to make a comfortable transition into working for TFA.  But this environment is not what works for everyone by any means, and there is nothing wrong with that.  I’ve met some AWESOME people here who I love and everyone I’ve met virtually is so smart and accomplished and impressive.  I’m not saying I don’t want to be here or that I don’t like the people here, just that I have different needs in making a huge life transition than many other people do.

7 Responses

  1. FallGirl

    Never fear. You are not the only one rolling your eyes at Institute Craziness. Like other posters have said, this model works for some, but not all, CMs. I can really relate to the idea of getting energy from being alone, reflecting on my experience, and sitting quietly. Try to carve out a few minutes to yourself – grab some headphones and sit on the grass, head to the gym, take a walk around the neighborhood, grab a good book. Do whatever you need to get back to yourself and know that there have been no mistakes. Your passion, your dedication and your willingness to challenge yourself are what will make you an amazing teacher to students who deserve only the best. Cheers!

  2. jess

    Please keep in mind that when you leave institute you will be back in the normal world! You won’t find more cheering, dancing and singing in teaching unless you specifically seek it out :)

    Good luck!

  3. rivermad

    They didn’t make a mistake in admitting you. You are exactly the kind of dedicated, super-smart, committed, accomplished and thoughtful core member they’re looking for.

    Just because you aren’t comfortable with the rah-rah stuff should not make you doubt your abilities or what you’ll bring to the classroom.

    It’s a template. It works for the majority who do need this type of bonding. Keep a smile on your face and get through it, but more importantly, keep your own counsel. You know what’s important and what’s not.

    “To thine own self be true and it will follow as the night the day thou canst not then be false to any man.”

  4. adrilicious

    Yea, they threw us a pep rally. It was weird and made me want to leave. Love my fellow CMs, but the hyper cracked out cheerleader routine is a little much.

  5. G

    It all comes with time. When you start teaching in the fall, you’ll need to integrate yourself with your teaching team. Trust me, you’re going to be glad you did. The first year of teaching is tough enough…don’t try to do it alone….:)

    • aea107

      yeah, i definitely don’t want to try to do it alone or anything like that, and i’ve made friends i like and i am good at working in groups and getting along with people generally. it’s more like i’m having trouble participating in the group bonding activities and games and i don’t need them to feel close to people (in fact, they make me feel less close to people, generally). not everyone who TFA admits is going to be the target demographic for CMs. that should be fine, but it’s just making me feel like maybe TFA made a mistake in admitting me.

      • Honestly, many (maybe even the majority) of teachers are fairly introverted and/or independent. Being low-key will likely HELP you bond with your colleagues. TFA’s fraternity/sorority BS really isn’t representative of the wider profession.

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