Thursday, April 21, 2011

Institutionalized Part 1

You don't actually have to do your prep-work.  There, I just saved you 30 hours!

            Given that Institute is fast approaching for many TFA newbies, I thought I would write a post reflecting on my own experiences there.  Bottom line – it is probably not as bad as you heard.   Addendum to bottom line – it comes pretty damn close.
            TFA Institute is notorious for its sleepless nights and general high level of stress.  Bloggers routinely post guides on how to “survive” it.  My aim is not to write a how-to guide here, but rather give you a reasonably accurate picture of what it is like.
            If you are anything like me, TFA Institute will be your first experience working in a corporate environment.  You will have to wait for the audiobook version of this blog to hear the utter loathing with which I put those two words together.  The first week of Institute, known as Induction, is a neverending cascade of discussions on “professionalism” and “core values” and misc. BS, in which you are expected to not space out and be a fully engaged participant.  Like much of TFA Institute, this is a good time to reflect on how not to teach.  Lesson 1: if both parties involved realize that a given class is irrelevant, there is no reason for either one to be there.
            This is where you will hone your aforementioned “60 Second Tale of Overcoming Discrimination” [or, more commonly, “60 Second Story”], so if you haven’t overcome any discrimination this might be a good time to find something to be oppressed by.  You will also learn many wonderful TFA acronyms; I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but if you hear the term “Wid-Wat-Double-U” [a.k.a. WIDTWW, “what is due to whom, when”], the Standard English translation is “syllabus.”
My CMA didn't like the INM or the GP in tomorrow's LP on the WIDTWW! FML.

            You will also become familiar, at this time, with the degree of overscheduling and mindless self-promotion that Institute is all about.  If you are of the camp-counselor bent and find organized getting-to-know–you games fun, you are in for a great time.  You will probably hear from TFA founder Wendy Kopp, whom everyone else will discuss in hushed, reverent tones.  You will also be treated to statistics-free, doublespeak-heavy “lectures” on why the TFA method works; apparently, you just have to take their word for it.  Typical statement [from a diversity talk]: “We have found that, although in some cases students do learn better from teachers who share their racial/ethnic background, your own background will never get in the way of being an effective educator.”
            You will also get to know your roommate[s].  Since many TFA people are relocating across the country, Induction is a pseudo-collegiate experience; one gets the sense that this is what college must be like for people who join too many clubs.  One of my roommates played religious songs on the guitar and used “Hey bro, how many hours of sleep do you get a night?” as a regular small-talk query; the other showed me pictures of strippers on his cell phone and explained how he was going to “f*** the gay out" of the new car that he purchased from a same-sex couple.
            Incidentally, all of the TFA employees who staff Induction are physically perfect white or half-asian women.  Don't inquire about this at the diversity sessions.
            That is week one.  Next, Institute proper begins, and you step into the classroom for the first time.  Believe it or not, that’s the easy part.  At the risk of sounding saccharine, if it wasn’t for the kids, I’d have quit TFA by week two (and honestly, I came very close).  But your eyes are straining, and I have to get back to playing Wii (spring break is rough), so you will just have to wait… until next time.


  1. Wait...are you serious about the pre-institute work?! I'm busting my overachieving @$$ trying to finish it all!

  2. You should to cross-reference this with folks in other regions, but nobody ever checked mine. I might have just had an especially nice Institute staff, though.

  3. I guess it doesn't really matter; they know that we are such over-achievers that we will do it anyway! Ah, I'm already going into Institute with a healthily pessimistic attitude. Hopefully, that's what will keep me sane during the indoctrination process.

    Thanks for keeping it real!

  4. ALthough not all pre-work is checked, I will say that I wish I had done all of mine though. Sometimes the purpose of doing work is not to get credit, but to learn something.