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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 26 2012

pre-institute work and inspiration

Before I begin, a short disclaimer (that should be applied to this entire blog but, in particular,  should be kept in mind with this post): I am not an expert. In fact, I am the complete opposite. Something below novice or beginner. So if you ever find yourself thinking “Gee, that bottlecap really knows all the cool stuff! That sounds like someone I should to listen to.”-  just know that you are wrong. Dead wrong. It might be that the exact opposite of what I’m saying is true. It’s really a 50-50 shot.

Now, a second caveat: I have not finished the pre-institute work yet. Yes, I realize it’s due in like… 3 days but what can I say? TFA was having an off day when they let me in. I shall be cramming these last how-ever-many hours in.

Alright, on to the real stuff. So, the first section of the lovely Pre-Institute packet is called “The Achievement Gap’s Causes and the Obstacles of Poverty” and it basically goes through the many ways the achievement gap affects the lives of those in poverty from health care to housing to the justice system, etc. Now, before everyone thinks I’m heartless and evil, I obviously do care about all this material. It’s horrifying and whilst reading it, I basically got some mixture of angry and depressed (depending on the day) and ranted to my lovely college roommates about it (they were very good sports).

I suspect TFA’s purpose in these readings (re-read disclaimer now if you’ve forgotten it) is to: 1.) educate new members on the real problems they are going to face, which I agree is important; and 2.) get their new members inspired to get in there and make a difference! The second two sections are even more slanted towards “inspiration.” They are lists of awesome people who are out there trying to make awesome changes. (I do not say this at all sarcastically, they really are inspiring). The third section (entitled the Latch Breakers) finishes its introduction by saying: “Take about an hour and a half to explore and be inspired by them now.”

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be any more inspired. I’m inspired plenty. I mean, they already won- I’m doing TFA. I drank at least enough of the Kool-Aid and signed on the proverbial dotted line. I’ve got inspiration in spades around here. What I really want to learn is how to be a teacher. This may be because the first book recommended to me when I was deciding whether or not to do TFA was “Teach Like a Champion” by Doug Lemov. I devoured that book. Heck, I took notes on that book. So, in fairness, my growing impatience with the beginnings of the Pre-Institute stuff may just because I want more information on how to be a teacher.

I talked with one of my brothers about this very briefly and he made the point that as a teacher, you really should be educated about the situations of your students. And I agree. That makes sense. Though I do think that learning directly from students is going to be more eye-opening and real than reading lots of articles on the subject. Anyway, my point is that… well maybe I just wish these segments hadn’t taken up 15 hours. Yeah, this mini-rant fell apart didn’t it?

Anyway, those were my thoughts over these first three sections. The one thing that I do hope is that since we’ve gotten all this background information out of the way before Induction/Institute, the primary focus there will be on teaching strategies and the like. If that turns out to be the case, then I will happily concede that my frustration was impatient and ill-founded.

(Endnote: I do realize that the very next section of PI work is entitled “Teaching as Leadership” as clearly tries to start discussing what I’m whining about here. I have read all of “Teaching as Leadership” by Steven Farr and was very pleased the focus was on teaching. However, I read it in conjunction with Gary Rubinstein’s critique soooo…… goodness, TFA probably hates me already.)

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