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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 23 2012

Induction Revisited (Institute W2)

Back after Induction ended (2 weeks ago now…), I wrote a post about how I thought Induction was a lot of bonding and thinking about feelings. At the time when I wrote the post, I was mildly annoyed by the Induction “Let’s all Bond” model and thought my time could have been better spent learning more teaching strategies. Everyone I asked about this, assured me that I would learn it all at Institute.

Well, Week 2 of Institute is down. And my feelings of “mildly annoyed” at Induction have transformed into full-fledged anger. I’m incredibly, passionately angry. I would say ridiculously but I don’t think I’m being ridiculous. To be fair, I didn’t go around polling people. And, of course, there are others who will not agree with me. But, I would say most people I have talked to agree that Induction, especially after experiencing Institute, was a horrific waste of time.

Let me backpedal a bit for those who have not been to Institute. The first week of Institute was all sessions on how to be a teacher. Like Lesson Planning. And… classroom management. All very useful things. All things that I wanted to learn and I think are important to learn. However, after you start teaching (Week 2) those sessions don’t stop. Nor should they because they are full of important information. Instead, added to those sessions are getting reading for teaching the next day (printing worksheets and copying books and all the things you never think about when you’re a student), and teaching, and more literacy sessions, and Lesson Planning for upcoming weeks. Like on Wednesday night, I was preparing for Thursday by making sure everything was printed, while also writing the Lesson plan for next Tuesday. Meanwhile, during the day, when one would hope that I could get grading and printing done, I am at more sessions.

Let me be clear: These Curriculum Sessions are important. They are about real teacher strategies. You need to know this information. However, in the face of having to teach and lesson plan days in advance, there are lots of CMs who don’t really pay attention because they are trying to get their lesson plans done so they have time to print (or eat or take a shower) that night or you have people who DO pay attention (at least mostly) and then are up till 1am or later (I personally have heard of CMs going to bed at 4am) in the morning doing all the other stuff they expect us to do. Then you have teachers who are going into school in the morning with 4-5 hours of sleep who have not really practiced their lesson because there literally is no time. Oh, and those lesson plans you stayed up late to do? Yeah, they are crappy and you are going to have to re-do them because you were literally just putting words on a page to send them to your CMA so you would not get put on a Professional Improvement Plan. (Oh, a professional improvement plan is where you map out every minute of your day so they can see when you are goofing off. This idea is laughable to me because I know of absolutely no one goofing off during the week. Literally have not heard of anyone.)

I cannot stress that last point enough. There is not enough time. I consider myself a pretty fast worker. And I have stayed more focused on work at Institute more than any other time in my life. To be honest, it has been the most un-fun (I don’t care if it’s a word or not, as I told my kids: “I’m an English teacher, I’m authorize to make up words”) experience ever. Not that I needed it to be daisies and sunshine. But… being able to have at least an hour a night to myself to say, read a book or call my parents or take a dinner that is longer than half an hour seems to be a fair request. And, I know I could take this hour. But taking this would mean going to sleep an hour later. And at this point, I don’t want to be trying to teach on 5 hours of sleep rather than 6 (yes, I have been making it to bed around 11:30! This is one of the earlier bedtimes in my group of friends).

To summarize for those who got lost in that rant: you have exhausted, work-crazy, brand new teachers going in to teach summer school. And then after they teach, they are supposed to sit and gain important information. While also worrying about a million other things. And, of course, the next day. Then, once a week, they hit you with a night session. Or, they have important CS sessions at night which are optional. Of course, these optional ones seem to me that they would also be really important. They had one on how to deal with disruptive classroom management. It was from like 6pm-7pm on… Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Who knows. I wanted to go because that seems freaking useful. I didn’t go because I had printing and lesson planning and grading to do. I ended up staying up till midnight that night anyway.

So, to the point. (I do apologize for this rant. I am just typing what I think. If it makes no sense, or seems excessively bitter…. Oh well). One simple, excruciatingly simple way I see to fix this problem is to DO THE FREAKING CS SESSIONS AT INDUCTION. I know you might not get to all of them. But for goodness sakes do some of them. Teach us about Lesson  Planning and CFUs and the OSAT and Classroom Management at INDUCTION. Teach us at Induction when we are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and pumped to be in TFA. Teach us when we are still taking notes and not worrying about lesson planning and getting more than five hours of sleep a night. Teach us then so when we are at Institute, our afternoons are our own and we have the time and energy to do what you want and focus on our kids.

Alright, that’s all for now. My plan for this weekend is to get far enough ahead on lesson planning that I do not have to do Lesson Plans for future weeks during the week. Because I refuse to live last week again. Adamantly Refuse. It was unfair to me and unfair to the kids I am trying to teach.

(Also, please feel free to comment as I would love to hear others’ thoughts on the matter. Especially if you have some great reason why more practical sessions would be impossible to implement at Institute. Because I would love a reason. I really would. No one I’ve talked to has come up with a good one and I’m tired of being so angry whenever I think about it.)

(Final note: I do not have time to edit this so I apologize if it is wrought with typos. I’m not going to even read it over).

10 Responses

  1. I am pretty sure the over-programming is done deliberately for the same reasons that real boot camp is structured to break people down.

    • I sincerely hope that this was written tongue-in-cheek. As an Institute staff member, I can honestly say that NOBODY wants Institute to break corps members down—or, framed positively, EVERYBODY wants corps members to succeed. It’s one thing to claim that Induction programming is a waste of time, and I agree for the most part (especially for the introverts among us who don’t feel inclined to share our feelings with the world), but that’s precisely what formal and informal feedback are for. It’s another thing entirely to claim that the challenges of Institute are intentional and malicious.

      Bottlecap, I feel your frustration. I distinctly remember mentally checking out during DCA sessions so that I could recharge my brain for the long evening ahead. If it’s any comfort, please know that (1) TFA is pretty averse to putting CMs on the Professional Improvement Plan except in the most dire of circumstances, (2) your CMA is probably more than happy to work out an alternative arrangement for LP submission if the current system isn’t working, and (3) most people hit their Institute stride eventually, though even if you don’t, it’ll be over soon enough.

      • Mostly tongue-in-cheek, yeah (obviously isn’t on the level of military boot camp). But your apparently pure-as-the-driven-snow Institute coworkers aside, I’ve heard TFA staff speak quite openly about how Institute is useful as a weed-out period, and that keeping new CMs “on their toes” makes them more receptive to TFA’s messages. Whether that’s justified or not can be debated but I myself don’t doubt that some of the choices in how Institute is structured are made with these ideas in mind. Of course you don’t have to buy my anecdotes for the conclusions I’ve drawn from them, but l’m putting them out here anyway.

        • Also, “deliberate” and “malicious” are two very different categories, and I said nothing about “malicious.” I mean, I use psychological tactics on my students all the time, with no malice behind it. I do think CMs should make a point of watching for manipulation, though, so they can make intelligent decisions about what to buy and what not to buy.

        • Tee

          Research on hazing shows that it really is an effective tool for bonding a group of individuals in a short amount of time. I wouldn’t be surprised if TFA leaders have (knowingly or unknowingly) internalized this concept and applied it (deliberately or not) in designing Institute.

  2. Lisa

    I agree with Parus….the printer/ copier breakdowns are also deliberate. Just hang in will be over before you know it.

  3. Meg

    I can’t speak to your Induction experience, as it seems very different from Induction in my region, but in terms of the scheduling – do you really feel like removing afternoon sessions would better prepare you for the year? Obviously I understand the desire for personal time but at institute you’re teaching for probably an hour a day and planning for one class of 10 students. During the year you’ll be teaching for 6+ hours, planning for multiple classes, grading for 100+ students, and you’ll have certification coursework probably once a week or so after school is out. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but you need to figure out how to make it work while you’re at Institute because you’ll be at least twice as busy during the year, and it wont be a “four weeks and get through it” thing.

  4. nonTFAtxteacher

    You can do it. Just teach. SCREW WHAT TFA HAS TO OFFER. The HS teachers that I know in HISD in Houston, that teach in inner city schools, not KIPP or charter, all get out at a reasonable time. You can do it. Just remember that your goal is to teach students who are in dire need, not to drink the TFA Kool-Aid Punch.

  5. A Curious Reader

    How are things going now? Is institute over?

  6. I know you are out, but what got me through was knowing how different it will be in the fall when I am teaching in Jacksonville. I posted something similar to this a few weeks ago.

    Just sharing that you are not alone in your frustration!

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