This is the speech I wrote and presented at the Houston Regional Meeting. Of course, I did not read this off word for word. Rather I used it as a basic framework, so it may read more oddly than it sounded when spoken a bit more conversationally. There are a couple TFA/Institute specific references in here as well that may not be understood by all.
I figure this is a good reflection on my time at Institute ready to go, since I was not able to blog as much as I would have liked throughout. Enjoy!
I am a pretty emotional person, and in the days before I left Chicago for Houston my emotions were on over-drive. But I wasn’t feeling what I had expected. Here I was, about to enter a brand new city and start two of the most transformative years of my life. I should have been overwhelmed with excitement, and in fact I walked around the days before Induction and wondered what in the heck was wrong with me. Because I. Was. TERRIFIED. Literally nauseous, had difficulty sleeping. It sounds extreme and overly anxious but it’s not surprising at all if you know me!
And then I arrived. My TFA Induction experience was a whirlwind. There were so many great people around that with my overwhelmed face-to-name memory, I’m sure I met the same people several times a day without even realizing it. The questions and answers by which we defined each other back then were probably one or all of these: What’s your name? Where are you from? Did you drive or fly down? Was Houston your first choice? And the dreaded HAVE YOU BEEN PLACED?! Still, along the way I managed to make some of the names and faces finally stick and by the time we bussed it to Galveston I had met my future roommates. Aside from the blur of faces and facts much of Induction was, I had the chance to be inspired by our regional staff, and humbled by the stories of our predecessors. I came away from Induction with a stronger understanding of the achievement gap as it stands in Houston but, more importantly, the mindsets and actions necessary for closing it. By the end of Induction I was finally excited to begin Institute!
For me, Institute turned out to be the dog whose bark was way worse than its bite. I was placed at an amazing school for the summer – MCREYNOLDS!! And had amazing staff around me. Still, I thought back to all the horrendous stories we had all heard about Institute– you’ll get NO sleep, lesson planning is SO hard, TEACHER. BOOTCAMP…Ok well that was all pretty much right on the money BUT we made it and from this end things don’t seem so crazy!
But in the beginning I suffered silently. I walked around for the first couple weeks wondering what I had gotten myself into. What made me think I could teach? Could take the futures of the powerful students I would meet into my own hands? Was I cut out for this? Had I made a horrible decision? How did I even get in to TFA?! But eventually I began hearing others express similar concerns and just realizing I wasn’t alone with my worried thoughts, that the other amazing corps members around me felt the same way sometimes, did wonders to ease my mind. Enough so that I really put my all into giving this experience a fair shake. And I left that old me, that 5-weeks-ago me in the dust.
Don’t get me wrong, the LONG nights spent breaking down concepts that for me are second-nature, or trying to find the PERFECT text in the resource center were no picnic. Nor did I love my 1 a.m. trip to the emergency care center on one of our very first school nights – all for a vicious, ankle bug-bite gone way wrong. Add to my ridiculous, painful limping the intense bouts of homesickness, anti-hair humidity, and the fear of missing my bus (turned reality on my students’ test day) and you have a recipe for ‘man I’m outta here.’
But for every setback I had at least 22 wonderfully….energetic reminders of why that simply wasn’t an option. 22 students who hadn’t a clue about this beast called Institute. 22 students who came to me each morning ready to test me, to lay their heads down on their desks, tap their pencils, tap their fists and all I heard was ‘Ms. calm us down so we can learn’ and all I saw were 22 wells of untapped potential. 22 students who came and showed me how high they could raise their arms if only I gave them something worth reaching for, and how bored they could get if I slacked on the rigor. And even though I only had my students for 75 minutes each morning, the energy they left me with was enough to pull me through everything Institute threw my way.
But it was Institute that helped me to help my energizers. I constantly learned techniques ready for immediate use through my CS and LS sessions. When I wasn’t busy turning the pages of what seemed to be the most randomly arranged book on the planet – the BOB- I was learning how to narrate my students’ lives, break down key points, up the rigor, heighten investment, manage behavior and tailor content to various types of learners. I can honestly say I have grown as an educator and learned so much from Institute. My lessons went from dull and simple to rigorous and engaging, and I was able to invest my students in education.
Well now, Institute is at it’s end and while I will so deeply miss what has got to be the best, cafeteria food, I have ever had (and some of you too) I am excited for the school year to begin. In August I will be teaching 6th grade English at the new YES Prep campus in the Fifth Ward. It is a brand new campus and I’m excited to help set the culture and definitely excited to meet every single one of my amazing students. I am sure I will face many challenges, but I am also sure that with the support of those around me, and my students in mind, I will overcome them. There is, as we all know, far too much at stake not to.
One thing I’d like to note: I continuously hear talk of how TFA has taken a group of us who are completely averse to failing at anything, and set us up for just that – failure. Here I say think back to what Doug Lemov said on Tuesday about school being the place where you get it wrong then get it right. He noted the importance of establishing a culture within our classrooms in which failure, or rather, mistakes and wrong answers are entirely acceptable to the extent that they are used to drive learning forward. How can we set up a culture in our classrooms that not only allows but encourages our students to try, make mistakes and learn from them if we ourselves frown so deeply upon our own mistakes. I challenge myself along with all of you, to embrace stumbling or falling along the way so long as it means we take advantage of the opportunity that presents – to get back up, regain our bearings, and watch that next step more carefully.