Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 19 2010


You couldn’t have convinced me of it at the time, but in retrospect, I really was doing great at Institute. I tasted none of the depths of teaching psychosis that I’ve marinated in for 8 weeks. It hit me today during seventh period, while my class bombed their second round of FMAs: The Ms. Kool-Aid from Institute would’ve never thrown an entire period away when things got crazy halfway through. She would never “slash the tires” : ) the night before and resign herself to an awful day. She looked forward to the weekends, but didn’t ache for them. She didn’t even count down the minutes until the end of the period.  The teacher who taught those beautiful sixth-graders would have clawed for every last second of first period to make sure her class learned what they needed to learn by the end of it. She sometimes even had the brain-space to assess whether she was scaffolding her CFUs, to keep an eye on her pacing, and to give specific, explicit instructions for transitions. Institute was high-stakes, high-feedback, high-energy, sense-of-urgency land.

SO: beginning on Tuesday the 26th (conveniently the beginning of the second grading period), we’re invoking Institute-self, by way of OPERATION: INSTITUTE. There are three tiers to this undertaking:


Tier 1 is basically my guide for organization and splits into four components: Planning, Class time, Grading, and  Records.
Planning will happen by way of an execution-friendly, printable template with a seating chart for grading/behavior spaces for prep, execution, and follow-up /CIE notes.  Class time will operate on a highly structured, timed Do Now/I do/We do/ You do/ Exit, with time budgeted for in-class grading and daily big goal tracking.  Grading will be totally pre-planned and streamlined, occurring mostly during class and with very rigid absence/make-up procedures. Records will be part of “prep” and will be kept in the form of a chronological lesson plan binder, Homework copies in a “missing something?” binder for the kids, and chronological student work in student binders.


Part of what I’m missing from Institute is the intensive Daily Data Dance. Individual tracking will happen on trackers in student binders as well as on a star chart for objective mastery on the wall for each period. Class big goal tracking of mastery (assessments), effective communication (presentation/writing grades), and problem-solving (behavior) will be on the wall, and each will include a daily class average, an overall big goal status update, and an element of competition by period.


Balls. Cojones. Management has to happen. My expectations for procedures will be posted, and I’m committing to teaching these procedures every day for at least two weeks. I’m marking and tracking behavior on my seating chart, and keeping track on my lesson plan of which parents to call each day. I’m also re-vamping incentives (raffle tickets, SPIN bucks, restroom passes, + calls home, “problem-solver” slips). But most importantly, I’m coming up with a list of grievances I will not tolerate, and a thorough plan of how to deal with each: cell phones, disrespect, work refusal, cheating, sleeping, and walking out.

I promise I’m trying to avoid looking at all of these changes as a major all-at-once classroom overhaul, even though I know that’s really what it is. I don’t want everything to change magically overnight—I’m looking at OPERATION: INSTITUTE as a focus for the next nine weeks—a framework to allow improvements to take place, and not a sudden “everything will be better from Tuesday on.”

… It’s really too bad I had to scrape my students and my sanity along the pavement for a full nine weeks to make any of this happen. Ha! Ah, well. Learn by doing, they say.

3 Responses

  1. Loved this. Felt the same way- who could have guessed I would be nostalgic for Institute?

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