The Learning Curve

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 18 2011

Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And you’ll be fine.

This week was the first week of classes led by CMs. It was very hectic, because we still have tons of sessions to get through and lessons to plan and ways to improve, edit, tweak and repeat.

All in all, it’s gone pretty well. My collab (group of 4 total co-teachers in a given classroom) is awesome and we have a nice CMA [Corps Member Advisor]. I get along really well with the other people in my collab, which I didn’t think would be that big of a deal, but I’ve heard of people getting into screaming matches with theirs, so I guess it is. Anyhow, our good friendships help us to lead well together, too. This week was touch and go in a lot of ways for each of us as individuals, but we have become our own little family.

One of the women in my collab is hilarious. She is probably the calmest person I’ve ever met, which is a feat given the environment we’re in. We could be in a room full of people freaking out over computer crashes and management problems, and she’ll just shrug and say, “It’s fine. It’ll get done. Why stress?” It’s definitely had a positive effect on our collab and on me personally.

This Thursday was my observation day. This leads me to refer to the title of this post: Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It definitely did. We got to school Thursday morning and almost all of the power in the building was out. Some of the first floor still had power (like the cafeteria and the front office) but by and large the lights were off, the A/C wasn’t working and it was a hot, musty mess even at 7:30 am. It’s TFA, so of course we just needed to soldier through it, and for a while we were hopeful that things would be fine. My lesson started a few hours later and was a mess pretty much from the first example. Trying to teach 5th graders how to divide decimals by whole numbers, and whole numbers by decimals, is an uphill climb. Partnered with the lack of power, our sweaty students quickly became frustrated and restless. Two or three of them were just distracting each other and talking during the intro, so they were completely confused when it came to practice. We’d moved their seating arrangements that morning and for the most part it was working out, but two of our students were talking to each other the whole time… and one got mad at the other and lashed out. The behavior fell apart almost as soon as my lesson did. I took my angry student outside and talked him down and explain his consequences. Thankfully, by that point, we only had a few minutes left in the lesson and they were already on independent practice so it didn’t particularly make a difference, but I was just done. I wrapped up my lesson,and  took up their work. I quickly realized that they’d only had about 50% mastery of the objective as as a class, but the breakdown by individual mastery was damn near appalling.  Once my co-teacher began to teach her lesson, I just strolled out into the hallway and cried.

If you know me personally, you know that I am not a particularly emotional person. I’m good with other people’s emotions, but I have like 3 feelings on a given day and all of them relate to whether or not I’m tired at the time. Crying in the hallway of my school was not my best look by a long shot, but at that moment, I just didn’t care. I talked with my school director to make sure I’d done the right thing and to get her advice for any future scenarios like it. Then my CMA came out to discuss and I just fell apart. It was a mess. All I could think about was being hot, tired, and having given my worst lesson and done the worst behavior management in two years of teaching. He tried to reassure me that it hadn’t been that bad, but I couldn’t help but feel crappy. I took a break in the CMA room upstairs and then came back down to help my co-teacher in the classroom.

That night I had to have my observation convo with my CMA – basically a time where you talk about what went well, what didn’t go well, and how you think that helped or hindered your students’ learning. It was a good talk to have, because I got to hear from an outside source that it actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I felt it had been and that he understands that it’s not necessarily indicative of my skill or potential as a teacher. That night when I went to finalize the next day’s lesson plan, I just decided to, for lack of a better term, suck it up. You can only wallow for so long, and it’s not like I could do it over again. Our class theme this summer is “All We Do is Win,” and we talk over and over again with our kids about how champions always practice (in season and off season, hence the summer school) and champions know small setbacks are not big failures. I believe it was Mike Krzyzewski who said that the secret to being a winning team and the secret to avoiding a losing streak is to “never lose twice in a row.” It seems obvious, but if you lose one game, that’s just life. If you lose two in a row, you begin think that you’ve lost your skill or ability, and you begin to spiral. I decided that I might have lost on Thursday but that there was no way I was going to lose on Friday. I couldn’t afford to lose, if for no other reason than my kids are in summer school for a reason, and they have no time to waste if they’d like to past the CRCT and go on to 6th grade. They need to be prepared, and a bad day cannot take away that preparation. No excuses, no whining, no stopping now.

So I woke up on Friday super excited and with a plan. I practiced my execution for about five minutes, and I just decided to be happy because there was no other option but having a good day. I helped out my fellow co-teachers with their materials and supplies, which made me feel even better about the day (I’m surrounded by incredibly intelligent and talented people). I executed the lesson effectively, my kids behaved the best they had since I’d met them, and all of my kids got 100% on their lesson assessments.

Everything that could go wrong on Thursday, went wrong. But you get over it and you decide it’s going to go better next time. You fail, and then you make a plan, and you don’t leave any room for the possibility of failing twice in a row.

So much of institute is a mindset. I’m glad that I had mine adjusted by a really, terrible day, because now I can be really realistic about my current abilities and where I need to improve. I’m not just ready for my students to win. I’m ready to prepare my students to win, and to keep winning, because they can, they have before, and they have to.

One Response

  1. Sarah Porter


    love you, p!

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