Learning to Read in Home Sweet 'Homa

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 25 2012

Institute in Review, Part II

There’s a lot to say about Institute, and I don’t think two blog posts can even really scratch the surface, but I plan to be done with the topic at the end of this post. Simply put, Institute is over. It’s time to focus on what lies ahead.

At Institute, I learned a lot. By and large my experience was about trying new out new techniques and skills and adding them to my repertoire. Mostly I tried out a skill, was alright at it, and then tried a few more. One way I was not successful this summer was by not pushing myself to be more than “alright” at skills that related to conveying content and planning. I became comfortable doing what I was okay at, and I didn’t want to rock the boat by trying to become better and inadvertently losing ground.

Also (and it pains me to just say this) my classroom wasn’t really joyful this summer. I was teaching fourth-graders, and I did not do a good job of giving them opportunities to be happy and exuberant. Classroom management seemed to come fairly naturally to me, and I was concerned that activities that really created joy would equate to opportunities for misbehavior. This was a huge mistake. Now I know that if my classroom was truly well managed, the students could be truly joyful and enthusiastic, and I would still be able to get and hold their attention. This school year will be different. There will be joy.

Beyond all that, I feel that I failed a very particular student. At the start of the summer his reading test revealed that he was reading at a sixth grade level. He was also (not surprisingly) the student who posed the biggest behavior challenges for us. I addressed his behavior, but only as far as compliance. I didn’t ensure that he was ACTUALLY engaged and learning this summer. At the time, it was hard to justify working on his problems in the class when so many other students were two, three or four years behind grade-level in reading. At the time, I thought: He doesn’t really need me, and he doesn’t need summer school–as long as he’s not disruptive, I can’t worry about him.  Now it’s clear to me that I absolutely wasted four weeks of this kid’s summer, and worse than that, I affirmed for him that it’s fine to coast through a class and not really try.

I regret all of this, but I can put those failures to work for me. This year I can look back on those mistakes and be sure that I’m not repeating them. At Institute my focus was on keeping my head above water. Now I know better. This year my focus will be on providing an excellent reading education to my students–even if that means I have to reach far out of my comfort zone.


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Comfort the Afflicted, Afflict the Comfortable

Middle School

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