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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 08 2012

What Do You Think? (Induction)

So, originally to make this blog accurate I was going to try to write a little something every day as Induction unfolded. Therefore, the first night of Induction I wrote this rambling, unorganized post about the difference between interesting and useful (and how I thought after only a day, you could see a trend toward the former). I decided not to post this for a number of reasons: 1. It was really, really bad writing (I blame being absolutely exhausted while attempting it); 2. I decided not to start the slightly judge-y train on the first day of Induction. After a single welcome dinner. And 3. I realize now I didn’t know quite what I wanted to say.

It is now Thursday and though I am still pretty tired (read: horrifically tired), I have finally figured out my real issue with Induction (or a part of it) and so I feel that this blog post will come out a little more organized and thoughtful than my last attempt. It might even be worth reading. Hopefully. Though, I am about to ramble a bit on political theory so feel free to skip these next few paragraphs if you would like (look for the bold font).

Alright, to go back a little bit. This past semester of college I took a political thought seminar entitled, literally, “What Do You Think?” It was with my absolute favorite professor so the class could have been called “You are a Freaking Loser, Bottlecap” and I still would have taken it. It was an incredible class that dealt with issues of justice, framing, philosophy, Truth (or lack thereof), etc. While my dad made ruthless fun of me for taking a class where “you sat around and talked about your feelings all day” (imagine that with all the scorn a science/math person can put into a sentence) a major theme of class was combating the idea of “feelings.”

In essence, this class challenged us not to focus on how we “felt” about issues, but to think critically of both the issues and our feelings to fuel discussion. Put simply, anyone can have feelings and these feeling can go largely unexamined and unchallenged. Can you help if you feel a certain way? More importantly, can you criticize someone for feeling sad? Mad? Happy? Feelings are very hard to argue against (if not impossible), and yet, conversely, can be easily dismissed (“Oh, she’s being over-emotional.” “He’s just irrationally angry.”).

Thoughts, however, are harder to articulate, harder to dismiss with a casual wave of the verbal hand, and easier to discuss openly. Thoughts require deeper critical awareness and yet are more useful to the political dialogue. Therefore, instead of always asking “How do you feel about *fill in the blank*,” a more useful question would be “What do you think about *fill in the same blank*?” I realize I’ve gone all political thought major on everyone and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve made the distinction clearly (blame the lack of sleep!) but let’s just plunge right along.

(For those who would like to actually hear about Induction without all the political thought technobabble, skip to here)

Put simply, Induction was entirely too focused on the question “How do you feel?” The first night we shared our “Stories of Self” (disclaimer: very interesting, very inspirational; I am not ragging on these at all), which were basically supposed to be defining moments in our lives. You got in a group and shared these stories. The next day, we did a Poverty-Stimulation exercise and answered the question (literally) “How did that make you feel?” At one point we answered the question “What motivated you to join the corps?” Then we had our session on Diversity which was 2-3 hours of discussing what diversity meant to you and how it made you feel. Wednesday, we talked about the vision of TFA and TFA as a movement and how you felt about being a part of this movement. Thursday, we discussed TFA core values, what core values you hold and then did a Privilege Session. This Privilege session included a Privilege walk and then we got back and answered the question “How did that make you feel?” Then to round off the day, we all took half an hour to write personal manifestos, which was I guess supposed to be a sort of speech to yourself on what you wanted to accomplish in the next two years/life. (Full disclosure: I was so done with this whole process at this point that I did mine it about 5 minutes so maybe if you committed to the process it was useful).  (Friday Update: We spent the morning talking about our own leadership and then shared our personal manifestos with our tables at lunch. Or we were supposed to- both groups I was in rolled their eyes and spoke of other things. Thank goodness).

For those who got bored reading the above paragraph: Imagine living it! Seriously- imagine. As mentioned earlier in the blog, I am not an emotional person. I don’t really like emotions, don’t really have them and if on the rare occasional they come to the surface, I sure as hell am not going to share them with prying strangers (“prying” here applies to TFA, not the other CMs).  That being said, I am not alone in this opinion. I am not the one TFA downer who glares a lot and sits in a corner. I can’t give numbers but I will say that a majority of people* I have talked to here feel very similarly to me and, more importantly, think that this is getting a bit ridiculous. Common complaints: “I can’t say why I’m here one more time.” “It’s the same questions every day, just slightly different words.” “I do. Not. Care. Anymore.”

I think that TFA believes that this kind of emotional, human connection will bring us together as a team. But, why not instead think through some real issues together? There are plenty of issues to work through. Maybe TFA worries that we won’t all agree and that we will feel divided but we are all apparently pretty smart. Surely, we are mature enough to see that healthy debate and disagreement is okay. Why not expose us to some of the challenges we will face and see what happens? If not that, then at least tell us more useful, concrete information. If you want to save classroom management and lesson planning for Institute (this is the theme I’m sensing whenever I bring this stuff up in informal ways), throw in some Child Psychology or some other education class subjects that we have missed out on.

I’m not saying that we should get rid of all of this. As mentioned, I really did enjoy hearing the Stories of Self and it was a nice, hardcore icebreaker for the group that I believe got us in the right mindset. But we don’t need that being beaten into our heads day after day. It just ruins the experience and uniqueness of the first day. Also, there are a lot of things that I think Induction is doing right and so TFA has the skills to make a truly useful Induction. (more to come on that next blog post). However, while self-reflection is important (she said, gesturing to her blog), too much of it forced in such a short time is counter-productive, wasteful, and, to be honest, really, really, annoying. Really.

* To clarify: Some people are loving this. Some people have told me this and there are many more who I can see are highly enjoying this whole experience.



6 Responses

  1. Olivia

    All I can say is, get used to it. I don’t mean that in a snarky way, but honestly, this has been one of my major complaints about TFA. It’s one of the main reasons you’ll hear people talk about feeling like they’re in a cult, and it’s definitely a primary factor in why I was so unhappy last year/almost quit several times. I don’t think you should have to share your soul with everyone in order to do a good job, but there’s this sense that if things don’t go perfectly in your classroom, then it’s because you don’t care/’feel’ the mission enough, etc. This whole year I’ve been thinking about major issues in education, things that really need to be thought about and changed, and it’s incredibly frustrated to be pressured to share your deepest emotions with a bunch of people who are supposed to be professional colleagues.

  2. It would be really cool if they taught you pedagogical methods for the age and in some cases subjects you’ll be teaching. How would you feel about learning to teach reading and writing in diverse settings?

    Hold fast…the kids need you, and while I happen to oppose TFA b/c I don’t believe it prepares recruits for classrooms, I very much support the TFAers who go in with a critical eye and a commitment to the kids.

    Good luck!

  3. hill

    Oh, get ready. TFA loves to talk about feelings. The biggest complaint among CMs in my region is that “feelings” often supersede the important things, like how to actually control your classroom or create a good long term plan.

    • hill

      just to add – reflection is very important. but get used to feeling over-reflected.

  4. I don’t know if you subscribe to Myers-Briggs, but I’m an INTJ, with strong emphasis on the I (introverted) and T (thinking). This made some of those touchy “share how you feel” sessions during Induction and Institute really challenging for me, as it sounds like they’ve been for you. My suggestion is: take it in stride. TFA does it because it really does benefit a lot of incoming CMs. (If nothing else, DCA sessions at Institute taught me how to approach difficult conversations diplomatically, which evidently doesn’t always mean with cold, hard facts.)

    If you truly feel like your time is not being honored, then respectfully take it up with your staff—maybe they can differentiate their instruction for you. (Differentiation is such an important aspect of teaching, after all.)

  5. bottlecap

    Hey everyone,

    I just wanted to thank you all for the comments and apologize that they didn’t show up til much later. I haven’t been on and didn’t realize I needed to approve them so that’s why. Blogging n00b right here.

    Thanks again! It was great to hear from others and I’m sorry I don’t have time right now to respond.

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