Along The River

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 07 2011

Preparing for Institute

I write this on the night before the last day of institute. I want to follow up on this post (which I found INCREDIBLY helpful) about how to “survive” institute, based on my experiences here in Atlanta. I don’t want to call these survival tips because, really, institute is not that bad. I wish it could shake the horrible reputation it has. I wonder if we have potentially great CMs turned away from TFA because of what they’ve heard about institute. Obviously not everyone feels this way, some people don’t like it, some don’t make it through, but I didn’t consider it a horrible experience. To throw some numbers out there, 3 people out of a corps of 183 dropped out of institute this summer.

1. Prepare to sweat.”

Here in Atlanta, the schools are air conditioned to a fault. So actually, prepare by bringing a sweater. That being said, no matter how cold the room was, when I got up to teach those kids I did start to sweat. Aside from teaching and riding the bus home (15-30 min in Atlanta) everything is really air conditioned here.

“2. Do the prework!”

My feelings on this are mixed. I will honestly tell you, though, that we did not have to turn any pre-work in, nor was it really referenced explicitly–with the exception of exercise 8. I don’t think I got a lot out of the pre-work because I really had no concept of what teaching would be like. The diversity stuff was useful, though. Make your own decision here.

“3. Don’t buy a bunch of crap before you get there.”

Definitely true. You might be teaching high school English in the fall but have fourth graders at Institute. My collab spent about $70 total on supplies after we knew what TFA was giving us. If you have brightly colored cardstock, bring that, otherwise save the supplies for when you get there.

4. Get organized from day one.”

Yes yes yes. I’ll add to this one as well. Pay attention in CS sessions. I didn’t really pay much attention, especially in the first week of teaching, and I feel like I probably missed out on some great tools. Pay attention so you know the tools and get organized so you can use them

7. Have a bedtime.

To be honest, I rarely reached my bedtime goal but that doesn’t mean having one didn’t help me. I went to bed by 11:30 every night (I would have preferred 10:30). I can’t imagine functioning on less than 6 hours of sleep. In the first week, get even more sleep because the days in those CS sessions drag on. When you have your kids they go much faster.

9. Love your students.

Definitely do this. It took me a while to get to the point where I could appreciate them. To be honest, I still don’t “get” some of my students. But I do miss them. My collab and I went to see them at lunch on the day before the test (due to the APS cheating scandal we had to be out of classrooms after Tuesday of this week) and they told us they already missed us! Take pictures of your kids and your classroom (just don’t put them online!)

10. Don’t leave town on the weekends.

I loved getting to explore Atlanta. Each weekend I went to at least one attraction (I packed a whopping 5 activities into July 4 weekend). You may never return to your institute city, so enjoy it while you’re there.

12. Copy early.

For Atlanta, this meant copying by about 10/10:30. That’s when the lines started to get long. I would finish up my lesson plan for the next day, copy, and then work on my drafts.

13. Don’t plan all weekend. Don’t play all weekend.”

This is pretty obvious, I think. I did what most CMs do at institute, have fun on Saturday and plan on Sunday.

15. Take advantage of your team.”

I thought I would struggle with Respect and Humility and then I met the amazing team at my school. Reach out to them for help! Some of the people in my CMA group were upset that the only person who came to observe them was their CMA. I saw when I was struggling and I reached out so that I had my CS and my SD in my classroom. Feedback is the name of the game here. These people know how to teach, use them as resources! Also, don’t discount the value of your fellow CMs.

17. Things (not) to bring. (a car)

Here is where I will disagree with this list-maker. In Atlanta it is great to have a car. Not much is walk-able from Tech, nor is public transportation readily available. I’m not saying you need a car, but if you have one and like the freedom it gives you, consider paying the $94 parking fee and bringing it. I’ve seen so many posts on our facebook group from people who need rides to target, to the pharmacy, who just want to do something but don’t have a car with which to do it. It really helps you on the weekend to have a car because then you don’t have to wait for plans, you can make them. The rest of his/her post on this I will agree with. A big backpack. A water bottle. A LAPTOP.

18. Find alone time. Find time to reflect.”

Ok, so feedback and reflection are the name of the game. Every day take some time to think about what you did well and what you can do better. This is essential in order for you to continually increase your effectiveness (one of the TAL rubric rows). Take notes, just stop and think, do whatever to make your time in the classroom a learning experience both for you and for your kids.

19. You do not know everything.”

Commit to trying each of TFA’s methods at least once. You may think the behavior management cycle is silly and won’t work for your seemingly old, mature 14 year olds, but you can’t really know until you try (disclaimer: I used it with mixed results, but am committed to bringing it with me to the region).

20. Don’t build it up too much.”

This is by far the most most important piece. I was terrified of institute. I wanted induction to last forever so I wouldn’t have to come here. And here I am 5 weeks later telling you that it was really not that difficult. I cried a few times, I worked hard, but it was never anything I felt like I actually couldn’t do. I’m not going to say I loved institute (I might say that in the future, but right now I’m just super excited to get back to Memphis so I want to get out of here) but I certainly didn’t hate it nor think it was the hardest, most challenging thing I’ve ever done.

3 Responses

  1. CY

    Revisiting this. USE THE BMC. I may not be great at setting the expectations or correcting behavior, but narration is so so so helpful. I don’t need an attention getting signal anymore. I just say Table 1 had their eyes on me. They are silent. Table 2 is ready. It works like a charm!

  2. Amdipuh

    Hey! I was just accepted and will be going to institute in ATL and was wondering what other information you could give specific to your location for institute.

    • CY

      Hey! A few things come to mind, but if you have more specific questions I’d be happy to answer them.
      1. The buses to and from school are hot. Really hot.
      2. You get your own bedroom and you share a bathroom with only 1 other person. Pure awesomeness.
      3. Go to the World of Coke! Lots of fun.
      4. Consider bringing a car.
      5. Get drinks at Rocky Mountain (pizza place nearby).
      6. Atlantic Station is super close to GA Tech and has really good shopping and a target (made lots of trips there).
      7. Consider not buying wireless. I did my work either in my apartment (with an ethernet cord) or on the computers in the copy center. $20 well saved, in my opinion.
      If you have any more specific questions, please ask.

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