Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Advice to New NYC Teaching Fellows

The end of the school year is almost here - Eight more days and it will be officially summer break and for the first time in a whole year I will have a legitimate break (minus my one summer class twice a week). 

Reflecting back on the past year, I am reminded that a new batch of Teaching Fellows are immersing in New York City, and really a whole group of new teachers across the nation, many of which are alternatively trained. I don't want to be too harsh on my own program because I too am a product of alternative certification policy; however, research shows again and again that experienced great teachers are the best thing for students. Currently, I am neither experienced or what I would consider a "great" teacher, but I hope to get there some day. 

So this is my advice for the new group of Teaching Fellows.... keep your mouth shut. Yes, you will have lots of ideas about how wonderful your first classroom will be, yes you will have some great ideas that you will want to share (and then some that will consequently flop), yes you've done wonderful things in the past that will make a decent (at best) first teacher, but right now all that really matters is keeping an open mind and learn as much as you can in the limited time you have this summer.  

My limited experience with new teachers is they have this huge disconnect with the realities of the classroom. The good news is this disconnect rapidly changes in an Earth shattering - "I never imagined THIS would happen" type of way after the first few months of being a teacher. New teachers are not a know-it all's about education, so stop acting like you are! Two weeks of being in a classroom does not make you master, nor does all your fabulous undergraduate research, nor does your previous work experience, nor does reading every blog/newspaper/book about education, yes those things will help you, but STOP parading around like you have this in the bag, because really it's all just beginning. Get ready for one of the most stressful years of your life.

There are two main categories I think fellows fall into. Those who are fresh out of college - idealistic, perhaps with a big heart for social justice, perhaps looking to pad their resume before doing something else, or perhaps couldn't get a job somewhere else, but have decided they want to spend a two years of their life teaching. (Yes, I would fall into this category, even though I took a year off doing social justice work outside of Detroit before becoming a teacher.) 

Then there are the career changers, who have spent a significant amount of timing doing something else. Some of them are parents, some of them hated their posh job somewhere else, some of them decided they wanted to do this before they retire to give back, and some of them for one reason or another decided to become a teacher.

The good news between these two groups is that they both care deeply about education and the children they serve, which is IMPORTANT. Never- ever EVER forget that, it will make your interactions with these two groups so much easier. Plus, you will need each other to network, plan curriculum, supplies, and other such "teacher" tips; don't limit your resources because you are intolerant.

Sometimes it takes the "young" ones a while to figure out that it's important to collaborate and friend people. They usually are busy "one upping" each other about their brilliant past accomplishments, that NOBODY cares about. For the older folks, yes, this is incredibly annoying and quite blankly the young ones behavior does make them look REALLY young. Instead of producing the eye-roll that you are thinking and making the mental note to not reach out to this annoying young person, instead say something like this "why are you telling me _____________________?" (fill in the blank.. things that come to my mind are things like "why are you constantly telling me that you went to Harvard?" or "Why do you keep bringing up that you were the student president who did x many extra curricular activities in college?" This tactic is particularly helpful in 1. pointing out to the recent grads that NOBODY cares and 2. bringing it to their attention that they are being annoying without flat out saying "you are acting like an annoying recent college graduate who thinks they know everything." Try it, trust me, their behaviors will start to change as they begin figuring out they shouldn't take themselves so seriously.

My advice to those who recently graduated college, think about your future. Stop thinking about the past, don't spout off everything you've ever done, or how you are so amazing or how you will be an amazing teacher. Yes, I know stepping out of college and starting your first new "real" job is scary and intimidating and the only thing you feel like you HAVE at this point is your past experiences, but let me tell you a secret: NO ONE CARES because at the end of the day you are going to be a teacher just like every one else. Lucky you. Ok, yes that's hard to take, but it's the truth, especially in New York. The New York attitude is very umm... how do I say this.... "Dont tell me who you are or who you are or are going to be, if you're somebody I need to know then I will know." Don't give anybody any reason to "not" know you because you have no self control for shamelessly self promoting yourself in an untactful way. That's not the way we do it here in New York City.

Now it's story time:

When I first started fellows there was this divide between the groups. The divide wasn't anything negative, but more so noticeable, and at times was made more noticeable by people's behaviors. For instance, there was this one row of recent college grads that we called the "angst row" because they were the 22 year old know-it-alls who all sat in the same row who demanded to been seen as intelligent meanwhile the rest of us resorted to a handful of eyerolls when they'd say outlandish things. The rest of us coped with these individuals by consequently calling them the "angst row," which as a result turned it into a game. Whenever one them would say something outlandish the rest of the class would exchange glances across the room and it was our own little bonding experience if you could call it that. 

Then, something beautiful started once we started student teaching! The angst row realized how freaking hard teaching was and how they knew literally NOTHING about teaching. Consequently about 75% of them began shutting their mouths and it was a glorious day where the heavens opened up and the angels sang in our grad classroom. I mean, yes, there was still the 25% who had yet to figure it out, but you know everyone learns at their own pace, we don't discriminate over people's speed of learning- we are teachers after all. Anyway, by the end of training pretty much everyone had figured it out expect perhaps one individual, who remains a friend regardless. Currently, my friends and I are still trying to train him how to be appropriate in class (so that we can get out of class on time). I personally think it's a loss cause, but we love him angst and all.

Now, here's a word for the older and perhaps wiser fellows. The recent college grads shouldn't be dismissed as purely young. They have been in the academic classroom much more recently than you and have abilities to pump out 4 page papers in one hour if necessary, they know how to schmooze professors, they know technology like crazy, they know how to work efficiently by dividing and conquering, they know how to use the internet to their advantage, quite blank they know the rules of the game and more importantly how to bend them to their advantage. You will want to be included in this, because it will make your life a hell of a lot easier. 

Another story!

So in one of my graduate classes an older fellow who has children at home announced before class about how she thought "anyone who is below the age of 26 cannot be taken seriously as a professional." Umm... Dumb mistake, lady. First of all, I would say at least 70% of our class was below the age of 26. So naturally I wasn't going to just let this comment slide by. I made my case using evidence to counter her statement and also pointed out to her how she just alienated herself from the majority of the teaching world (who either started their teaching career young or who are still currently young) including the majority of this classroom. It was a very DUMB statement for her to make especially so early on in our program when she gets to spend the rest of the 2 years in grad school with us "dumb" less than 26 year olds. I'm just saying, that's an easy way to make your life automatically more difficult! Don't be stupid. And you know what? None of us help her with any of the homework or give her any tips we get through the grapevine. Congratulations, you just alienated yourself from your peers. 

In conclusion, SO much grief can be avoided if you simply keep your mouth shut. You know that rule? That one we teach our kids, that goes something like "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"? Yeah.. that's going to help you a lot this year. Also, I swear the smartest thing a first year teacher can do is keep their mouth shut, not matter how ridiculous things get at school with administration or other teachers. There's a lot you will not know including people's relationships with each other because people will talk. 

Ok, I think that's everything I have for now!

For the new fellows, I truly congratulate you as you start off on this exciting adventure of teaching! Get ready though, things you cannot even imagine will begin happening... SOON. Hold on to your seat it's going to be a long ride! 

1 comment:

  1. Hey There,

    I am headed to my interview this coming Monday. I've actually been offered a spot at the Success Academy fellowship and have until Monday to decide, but I really wanted to learn more about the teaching fellows program before I decide and attend the interview. My question for you is, would you be able to expand on what your training was like during the first summer? could you share what your schedule was like? also where you compensated during August when you had to job hunt? and finally, how many times per week do you attend class and at what time is class? It sounds like during the summer you attend class only twice a week but how about during the rest of the school year? Thank you for writing such a great blog, I've read all of your entries that cover the teaching fellows program and feel so much more informed!!