Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 18 2013

Things About Institute That Now Make Me Cringe

also known as,¬†things about Institute that really didn’t need to be the way they were.


I’m not sure why I’ve chosen now to write this – maybe because I’m trying to procrastinate on planning for tomorrow, or because I’m feeling emotional because this is the first time in four years I haven’t been a part of my university’s Orientation Week (which started today), but whatever the reason…this post has been brewing for a while. It’s almost a relief to be able to get it all out finally.

Let me pause here to say that I still don’t really know what I’m talking about, as I’ve been a teacher for approximately 10 days and haven’t gotten nearly as much non-TFA training as have traditionally certified teachers. And I am just one person so my opinion shouldn’t be representative of TFA, my district, etc. But here it is, for what it’s worth. The unedited opinion of someone who was unashamedly in love with Institute.

Let’s just dive in:

1. The oddly brainwash-y social norms: I think a certain amount of brainwashing happens in any sort of professionalization or socialization setting, especially one for lots of recent college grads. And I don’t include in this category things like cheers or shoutouts or whatever because I view that stuff as one of the idiosyncrasies of TFA as an organization; overall, they weren’t really bad things. Here were the bad things: the positive social norming of negative outcomes/results/feelings/cultures. Here’s a clear example. I haven’t cried A SINGLE DAY since school started. At all. At home, at school, while driving, etc. At Institute I cried at least three times per day and often threw up in the mornings because I was so nervous. This has nothing to do with experience – I’m quite positive that even if I’d been teaching for six months before I went to Institute I would’ve felt just the same.


Well, for one, there was an absurd amount of pressure. Unnecessary pressure. Pressure to do things and to not do them, to feel feelings and to not feel them, to feel so, so much for your students yet be superhuman and pretend it doesn’t hurt when a student calls you “white bitch” in class. To be working working working at all hours of the day. To perfect that already-perfect poster, because how will students ever learn culture in three weeks if your day one poster isn’t perfect? And in that setting, the pressure became internalized to the point of seeming normal, except let’s not forget: It wasn’t normal. And shouldn’t have become normal.

And there was a second reason too. We were put in situations we should never have been put into, and expected to come out just fine on the other side, which created a culture where it was okay to cry in public but not to actually admit in public that you were scared/nervous/worried about your teaching ability. Because that wouldn’t be showing grit, would it?

2. Reinventing the wheel: this should be self-explanatory. The amount of time I spent trying to remember how I learned fractions in order to write my lesson plan to teach students fractions makes me cringe right now. What was I thinking? I have NO education in math pedagogy, NO context for what math intervention or special ed math should look like, NO business even thinking I have either of those things.

3. [this literally makes my heart hurt] The astonishing lack of education of Special Education students. I taught 30 students this summer. According to my mentor teacher, 10 of them were SPED, though of course I never saw an actual number. Did I accommodate anything? No. Did I modify anything? No. Did I offer proximity seating, learning aids, or cognition aids? No. Did I even think to ask whether these things would be appropriate? No. I feel awful about it now, considering how much time I currently spend rewriting exit tickets, planning modifications/accommodations, etc. for my current SPED students. My summer SPED students did not receive the education I was legally obligated to give them. And who is there to answer for that except for me?

4. Why was I teaching math this summer? I don’t mean this in a complain-y way, because good teaching is good teaching. But honestly. Two other teachers and I shared one class of students this summer. My co-teacher and I both taught our students math. This year, neither she nor I are math teachers. I know our kids would’ve struggled either way, because summer school teachers have no idea what they’re doing. But is it any surprise that they struggled so much?


Let me be clear though. There are things I miss very much about Institute, things that were beautifully executed and made my Institute experience – and just me as a person – so much better. Things like:

1. My CMA, my CMA group, and the overall culture/investment in the institution of CMA groups.

2. Reflection time.

3. Purposeful group collaboration.

4. Humor and laughter (like the Wobble every Friday afternoon).

5. Lots of emphasis on data. I’m a firm believer in exit tickets and I harken back to my Institute days whenever I feel tempted to just forget about them.

6. The Observation Station. I went out of my way to make one in my current classroom and many observers/visitors/evaluators have commented on how useful and welcoming it is.

7. Modeling of teaching techniques/practices by accomplished educators. I get that in my current training now too, but as they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and there’s nothing I love more than watching amazing educators in their element.

8. Practicing how to give/receive feedback with grace and dignity. Enough said.


And most of all, I still miss the people, every day. There’s something really beautiful about growing up alongside people who are so openly welcoming and unashamedly vulnerable. I miss that a lot.


So there are a few of my thoughts. It’s late, and I’m not as eloquent as I should be, and I’m sure I’ll think of more as they come up. I’ll add them later. This is not meant to be TFA-bashing at all. Just a little self-reflection on a Sunday evening.

2 Responses

  1. daltongoodier

    I really enjoyed this post. It reminded me of many of the unique things I experienced during my Institute. I hope you have a great year and keep on writing!

  2. Gary Rubinstein

    Excellent insights. After 2 weeks of teaching, you have more wisdom than the powers-that-be of TFA. Also, glad to see you are doing well teaching. I always felt that if more CMs had full classes and some rowdy kids, they would be able to experience what most experience in the first year, just over the summer, and have a sense of what to prioritize in their actual first year. I posted this to my Twitter followers, and it got good reaction.

Post a comment

About this Blog

Journeys, challenges, & writings of a first-year teacher.

Middle School

Subscribe to this blog (feed)