Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 05 2010

… I miss Institute.

 I don’t get it. When is the point where I start feeling like this is possible? When do I start to realize that I CAN do this?

I miss the clarity and straightforward simplicity of Institute. Everything started from scratch–it was just SWBAT and the mastery tracker. Everything else was execution, execution, execution. Which is always pretty mysterious, sure, but even that was simplified with the Academic Impact Model thing (teacher mindsets/beliefs/knowedge–>teacher actions–>student mindsets/beliefs/knowledge–>student actions). I had time almost every day during Institute to write an assessment aligned to my objective, come up with an I do/We do/You do that allowed students to practice what they’d be assessed on, and then re-address something execution-wise I could improve. Institute was all about CIE–making changes, improving a little bit every single day.

And now…

Now, I don’t have the privelege of backwards-planning from scratch, because I have to teach to a very detailed curriculum that, frankly, looks as if it were put together by CMs in a 1-hour PLAN session during the first week of Institute. I don’t have access to our benchmark assessments, so I can’t backwards-plan from there, either. Then you add writing emergency substitute lesson plans or updating the awful online gradebook or trying to sign up for more New Teacher PD or calling parents or coming up with a behavior-tracking system or some makeshift way to track objective mastery. And when every night is spent scraping things together for the next day’s activities, hoping that my blind, Key-Point-less explanations will eventually lead my students to some kind of mastery of something-or-other… it’s hard to see how any of this leads to ‘significant gains.’


Seriously, though. To all you kinda-sorta-”with it” teachers (yes, I mean YOU, you glowing second-year CMs and YOU, you casual fourth-year-rockstars): When does backwards planning happen? Is it just that I should have figured out all of this stuff over the summer, and now I’m playing catch-up? Is there some transition point around Christmastime when I suddenly “get it”? Did you make significant gains your first year?

2 Responses

  1. Ms. Math


    What classes are you teaching? Maybe I can come up with an assessment you can use.

    There is a transition period at some point where teaching is no longer the hardest thing you’ve ever done and kids start going with the flow and behavior stops being the biggest struggle of the day to something you just have to keep on top off.

    In my Precalculus classes I think we made some pretty solid gains my first year but not all of the students and not 100% of the standards were accomplished. My boys Algebra classes made progress on behavior but I didn’t have a tracking sheet demonstrating that I’d turned their life around. I think it’s a lot harder in high school when they are 4 or 5 years behind and you are teaching them concepts that they are not ready for and have a pretty strict script to follow. I’m curious what your constraints are and how we can work around them-join the content communities at TFANET, give me some details about what you are teaching and let’s see if we can figure this out.
    Cameron Byerley
    Upper School Math Community Leader

    • wessie

      I’m teaching Geometry and Intervention II (TAKS-review course for 10th graders who failed it in 9th grade).
      I’m actually curious about what exactly my constraints are, too! I’m speaking to more and more people about it, and everyone I talk to has a different understanding of what “adhering to the curriculum” requires. I’m hoping I can start using just their standards and pacing–but I’ve also heard “the curriculum plans everything out for you. If you get off by a day or two, that’s okay, but the activities are chosen carefully by professionals…” etc etc etc.

      Thanks for your advice! I need to get myself acquainted with the content communities and start being a squeaky wheel.

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