Big Dreams for Little Heroes

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 03 2011

Institute Was the Easy Part

(I wrote this blog knowing that I would be writing the next post about my post-institute experience, hence the “easy part” title. I wouldn’t have said Institute was the easy part back in July)

Since starting TFA, I’ve been asked by prospective Corps Members what Institute is really like. My honest response is that it is not that bad. Granted, this is only my experience, and I’m sure Institute was a hot mess for a lot of people. My experience was that Institute was pretty accurate to the experience I was prepared for during the application process.

Here’s what a typical day looked like for me:

  • 4:45am- Wake up and get going. Just kidding. I did wake up at 4:45, but I went back to sleep from about 5-5:30. I did this to get out of my roommate’s way in the morning. It  really simplified things for both of us.
  • 6:15am: Snag some breakfast at the Dining Hall. We also picked up our lunch during this time. Lunch was usually a sandwich, chips, fruit and a drink.
  • 6:30am: My bus pulled out of GA Tech and headed for SE Atlanta.
  • 7:00am: Arrive at school, get checked in, do final prep for the day
  • 7:40am: Meet the kiddos at breakfast. I tried to use this time to do flash cards, sight words, etc.
  • 8:00am: Bring the students upstairs for their Reading Lesson. During the first 2 weeks of teaching, I taught Math in the afternoon. This meant I had my sessions in the morning. The 2nd 2 weeks of teaching, I taught Reading in the morning. I liked the chance to get to teach both Reading and Math, but I’m not sure this is a typical experience for most elementary corps members.
  • 8:10am: Curriculum Session: These sessions focused on planning, management, instruction, etc.
  • 12:30pm: Assist with dismissal, grab lunch before afternoon sessions
  • 1:00pm: Afternoon session with our CMA
  • 2:00pm-4:00pm: Afternoon sessions. These were either planning clinics, literacy sessions, curriculum sessions, etc.
  • 4:00pm: Leave school and head back to GA Tech
  • 5:00pm: Dinner at GA Tech (the food was all right- can’t complain when it’s free!)
  • 5:30-9:30pm: Lesson planning and prep time. I used this time to copy lesson plans, handouts, books, etc. I also practiced my lesson, met with my CMA, and graded papers. There was an occasional meeting or training during this time, but these were rare.
  • 9:30pm-11:30pm: Since this is my blog, I’ll say I used my time effectively and went to bed early. The reality is I usually needed these last 2 hours to get my life together.

I secured an apartment before Institute, so I spent my weekends sleeping, checking out ATL churches and taking some social time. Sunday nights were spent getting ready for Monday.

A few potential corps members have asked me my Institute Survival Tips, or “What nobody tells you about Institute”. I tried to piece together a few pieces of advice. I really hope that readers take this with the notion that I’m writing this almost 2 and a half months after Institute. If you asked me these questions in the moment, I’m sure my perspective would be quite different.

Institute Tips:

  • Go to dinner early: This sounds like a really trivial thing, but it set me up for easy nights. By eating dinner at the same time as my grandparents, I just kept moving the rest of the night. I found that on nights when I went back to my room first, I lost all motivation. If I just kept moving, I was finished around 9:30 and could go to bed at a normal hour.
  • Copy your stuff before 7pm: Eating dinner early meant I could copy things early. This eliminated the endless lines at the Copy Center. All through Institute, the longest I waited was about 10 minutes. Compare this to reports of 45-60 minute waits, and getting to the Copy Center early makes a world of difference.
  • Advocate for your own needs: My management at the beginning of Institute was a hot mess. I yelled, gave inconsistent consequences and generally had no control over my classroom. I’m okay admitting this because I got better after I asked for help. My management wasn’t perfect, and it still isn’t even close. However, once I asked for help, I learned strategies that made my management better. Once my management improved, my instruction improved. All of that goes to say, ask for what you need. The point of Institute is to learn. I went in to Institute thinking I knew a lot. I found out quickly that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
  • Breathe. Calm Down. No really. Stop. I don’t mean to break some amazing TFA secret, but the level of accountability you have in Institute is nothing compared to what you’ll experience when you are the teacher of record this fall. I don’t want to freak anybody out, but seriously- you’re responsible for 8-12 kids during Institute. In your classroom, you’re responsible for 20-30 students. You have so much help during Institute. Take it. Breathe, calm down and know it’ll be okay.
  • Sleep when you can. 20 minutes on the bus ride. 10 minutes waiting for the copy machine. 4 hours in between two instructional days. 15 hours on Saturday. No matter how brief or extensive your sleep time is, TAKE IT.
  • Make friends (and preferably from your region): No one else will understand what you’re going through. Your boyfriend, your mom and your mentor may have an idea of what Institute is like, but no one but other CMs will really get it. Make a friend network of people that are in your region. Institute is like summer camp: you bond really quickly.

That’s pretty much all I can think of at this moment. The overarching message I can say about Institute is know that it will be okay. There are so many support systems available. Use them, and know that it will be all right. And on the bright side, it’s only 5 weeks.

Now, I know the title of this post is about how Institute is the easy part. More on that later, but know that Institute is the basics.

One Response

  1. KCMO Chief

    I love your title. Institute seriously is a piece of cake compared to what it is like when you get into the region. I honestly feel like TFA does a disservice to CMs because there is hype about how challenging Institute is, but in reality, it is a walk in a park compared to a hike up Mt. Everest.

    But this advice is so great from prospective CMs! Great Job!

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About this Blog

Reflections, questions and observations of my two-year commitment as a TFA Corps Member. Metro Atlanta 2011!

Metro Atlanta
Elementary School
Elementary Education

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