The DC Teaching Fellows Experience (& Why It Didn’t Work Out For Me)

I want to give a fair, objective overview of the experience of going through the DC Teaching Fellows Summer Institute program. I get a lot of readers that are searching for insight into the program and the process, so hopefully this can be a more extensive account than I was able to find when I was enrolling. At the same time, I want to explain why I didn’t make it through. So this will be some mix of objective reporting and editorial story. Bottom line: everything here is true, in my experience, but take it at face-value. If you want even more details about anything I talk about, leave a comment or send me a message. I will definitely answer any questions or explain anything that may be confusing.

You can get an idea of my early experiences from my previous blogs. Before the Institute actually began, there was a short “Opening Ceremonies” wherein people spoke about what to expect over the next six weeks. The people in charge of the program introduced themselves and their various roles in the Summer Institute and the Fellows program. Fellows from previous years expounded on their time in institute and since. A principal spoke as well. He began and ended with a slam poem and had a very inspirational message. He emphasized the need for not only effective teachers, but engaged, caring teachers. But they’re the same thing, aren’t they (his point). He hired me to work at his school.

The Opening Ceremonies were on a Friday, and the next Monday Institute started at full speed. Summer Institute is divided into two interacting domains: the framework sessions and practice teaching (PT). The first three full days were devoted only to framework sessions. For these sessions, the larger Fellows cohort was divided into disciplines: English and English as a Secong Language, Science, Early Childhood, etc. I was with the Math Fellows, of which there were initially eleven.

The sessions are information heavy, but engaging and interesting. They are led by a teacher in the same content area as the cohort. The sessions leader is your Fellow Advisor (FA). My FA was candid, honest, humorous and good-spirited.

Interspersed with the regular framework sessions are workshops and informational All Cohort Meetings. Regardless of the type of meeting, the program leaders continuously demonstrated and modeled techniques that can be used in many classrooms. For example, clapping attention-getters or the jigsaw instructional technique.

During the framework sessions work-products are assigned, begun, and turned in. The first work product was a Classroom Management Blueprint and the second was a Differentiated Instruction plan–the links are to my work products that I turned in. There were three more work-products that were actually part of a larger Unit Plan work-product. I only began the first of these before I was exited from the program.

The work-products were evaluated on a 1-3 scale with +/- modifiers. This is the evaluation rubric . These evaluations form half of the official documents used to determine if fellows are recommended to teach at the end of Institute. My initial scores were 2+ and 3- on the CMB and DI plan, respectively–the links are to my evaluations. Regardless of the score received, and mine were higher than typical for first attempts, work-products had to be improved and resubmitted. They were considered “living documents” and never completed or perfected.

On the third full day of Institute we were introduced to our Resource Specialists (RS). During this meeting we were also assigned to our practice teaching (PT) classrooms. Two fellows were assigned to each classrooom. Note that fellows are not necessarily assigned to a classroom that matches their assigned content area or age-group. The teacher that runs the Summer school classroom we practice taught in, known as our Cooperating Teacher (CT), also acted as a mentor.

PT was the other half of the evaluation process. RSs observed and evaluated each fellow three times. Evaluations used the same 1-3 scale as work-products. Observations were focused on two primary domains: Instructional Design and Delivery(IDD)–lesson plans, strategies, assessments, etc.–and Classroom Management and Culture(CMC)–rules, discipline, rewards, praise, etc. To be recommended to teach, fellows were required to earn at least a 2- in both domains by the final evaluation.

After each observation and evaluation, the RS gave a very helpful debrief that included both strengths and weakness as well as explicit next-steps. The next-steps were strategies, techniques, or tools to use the very next class.

I earned a 1 in both IDD and CMC on my first evaluation and 2, 1+ on my third evaluation. I was given a fourth evaluation to raise my CMC score. I still did not succeed and that is exactly why I was exited from the program.
After my second evaluation, I was put on a Performance Improvement Plan to focus on raising my CMC score. After the third evaluation I was put on an Action Plan. I knew the consequence of not meeting the Action Plan could be removal from DC Teaching Fellows.

So, what went wrong?

Without making excuses, here is the rundown of my PT expience.

  • My practice teaching class was a three-hour Algebra I class with mostly 10th graders.
  • Most students needed this class to pass 9th grade and advance to 10th grade.
  • My first day of teaching the fellow I shared my class with quit with no notice. My CT was also absent and there was no sub available. I had prepared one hour of material, but was now running the whole three-hour class alone.
  • My CT was absent three more times throughout the Summer, including the day of my fourth and final evaluation.

These were difficult circumstances, but many and most of the Fellows had difficult PT circumstances, that is the idea of the program.

Why wasn’t I able to just implement the next-steps my RS gave me and get a higher evaluation? All I can really say is I tried. It is difficult. I was never able to get the students to take my authority seriously. In fact, I did implement the next-steps and they didn’t work. And I didn’t know how to deal with that. Furthermore, I did alright when one or two students were off-task. I didn’t know how to approach exerting control when six, seven, even eight students were all simultaneously off-task and being disruptive.

This is going to sound like an excuse, but stay with me. Ultimately, I am not a very strong character or presence. I’m small, my voice is quiet and not particulary deep. I don’t command respect, and I’m sure I broadcast my insecurities. Here is why this isn’t an excuse: I was trying to overcome these weaknesses. I made my voice loud. I made sure to maintain a self-assured presence in the classroom.

Classroom management in that type of environment was a huge challenge for me. My RS and FA said that I was improving and that given a few more weeks of practice and coaching I would get there. Unfortunately, Summer Institute is a six-week program and I was at the end of it. Those few more weeks weren’t not available. So, they recommended some alternative ways for me to get into teaching.

Now, a lot of people have good-naturedly tried to make excuses for me. Damn those kids for not behaving. Damn my CT for being gone so much and especially during my observations. The program must be broken. How can they expect many people to get the hang of it in just six weeks?

99% of Fellows get through Summer Institute and get recommended to teach. The program outputs hundreds of effective teachers. It should not have mattered whether or not my CT was present for my observations. My RS needed to see what I could do on my own. As for the kids, they could have been more well-behaved. But it is not their fault I couldn’t make that classroom function. It was my responsibility to make them want to be on task, to see it as more beneficial to pay attention than to engage in misbehavior. As of the end of July, I was not up to that responsibility.

I understand why DCTF exited me. Even if they felt, as I did and do, that I would have been fine come Fall, I did not prove to them that I would be. They needed definitive proof that I could manage a classroom and be effective as soon as I walk into the classroom. The integrity of the Fellows program hinges on them only recommending teachers that will be evaluated as effective. If they put me in a classroom and I was not actually able to be effective, then the worth of the Fellows program would be lessened.
I could not have tried harder. I know that. I gave this my full effort. I regret that it wasn’t enough and I feel badly that I was not able to meet this challenge I set for myself and that I let down the people that were depending on me to succeed here. I regret that I do not get to live in DC for the next couple of years. I regret that I have to slink back home with my tail between my legs and admit my failure.

I do not regret trying. In fact, I did something I never would have expected from myself. I do not typically take risks. Even though I failed, I am not defeated. Unexpectedly, I actually feel that in my heart.

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28 thoughts on “The DC Teaching Fellows Experience (& Why It Didn’t Work Out For Me)

  1. Too legit to quit :-) If only you had some Hammer Pants!

  2. Is it true that some Fellows this summer can’t find work even though they successfully completed Institute?

    • There are always more open positions than there are Fellows, and there are almost always more openings in each content area than there are Fellows in that content area. The one exception this year was early childhood education. At any point during Institute there were only about half as many openings as there were early childhood Fellows.

      By the time left, at the end of July, over half of the Fellows had been hired. Fellows continue to hired throughout the Summer. In some cases, Fellows may not be offered a position until during the first week of school. This has more to do with DC Public Schools than with the Fellows program.

      DC Teaching Fellows has a lot of pull with DCPS, though. They offer a lot of support during the job search and sometimes they just set up interviews for Fellows. They put all of the responsibility on the Fellows themselves to get interviews and to find a job. As the Summer wears on, though, the program coordinators and leaders start exerting more direct influence over the hiring process.

      I would estimate less than 3% would be unable to get hired. And of those, the vast majority probably did not start actively looking for a position the very first day.

      Hope this helps. Thanks for the question.

  3. Pingback: Retreat – a video blog in two parts | Verses and Discussion from R. Brockey

  4. Thanks for the blog. I hope you do not consider yourself a failure. You have a lot of heart. I will be in the program this summer and I thank you for your insight. It helped better understand what to expect.

    • I’m glad my post helped.

      I think I have finally gotten to the point where I don’t consider the entire experience a failure. The Fellows program was just not the right avenue for me to get into teaching.

      DCTF is a really good program. They are doing good work and they are extremely supportive. Just be prepared to work like crazy from the moment Institute starts.

      Thanks for reading. Stop back by at some point and let me know how the Fellows experience is working out for you.

  5. Hi Ryan, thanks for the blog. I’ve been invited for the second round interview and I’m deciding if I still want to pursue it. I currently don’t live in DC and want to know how much it would cost to live in DC for the two-months of training? Also, what are the chances of getting pass the second on-site interview? And what is something you would of wanted to know when applying to the program? Thanks!

    • Thanks for reading!

      I spent a good $4000 while I was there. But that included everything from food to things like linens and pillows. Keep in mind that I moved literally across the country. If you are closer and it is more feasible to move more of your possessions with you, then you could probably decrease your costs a bit. I only took two suitcases and two large boxes. I was also living in Maryland during the training, so my commute costs were about $30 per week. But, in Maryland, my rent was cheap, $1500 for the time I was there. So there are a lot of factors. But, you will definitely want to estimate that it will cost a few thousand dollars to survive during the training period.

      I think they take somewhere between 25-30% of the people they interview. So the strict probability is that most people won’t make it in even if invited to interview. But, if you really have a passion for teaching, for making a difference under difficult circumstances, and you feel like you would be really good at it, then that increases your chances.

      Before I’d applied, I wish I would have known just how difficult the conditions would be during the practice teaching portion of the training. My very first day, the teacher called in sick and they wouldn’t give me a sub. So I had to teach the entire class by myself. Oh, and the structure of the class was also ridiculous. It was Algebra for 10th graders. It was three hours long, five days a week. They don’t even make college students take three hour math classes five days a week. So it was torturous for the kids.

      That is part of the reason I didn’t make the cut in the end. I just could not figure out how to manage the classroom for that long of a stretch.

      Anyway, I hope this answers your questions. Please let me know if you want further clarification or if you have anything else you are wondering about. It really is a great program. But it is hard and a hell of a lot of work.

      • Thanks for the great information! I really appreciate it. I think I’m going to back out of the program. It is a lot of money to spend and I recently graduated from college. I don’t want any loans. If there is anything else that you think I should know before I back out of the program, please let me know. Thanks again and good luck!

  6. As a recent co-hort who was just exited from the program, I would have disagree with you R. Brockey. DCTF is not supportive to everyone. DCTF staff forms their own opinions about you on the very first day based on your look. Me, I am 5’7, 140 lbs, very meticulous about appearance, loves labels and I’m also African- American. Yes yes yes one may say ” oh God not the race card….” I honestly cannot tell you why DCTF never liked me but I can say some of the statements made by staff and the questions they would ask my co-fellows behind my back are definitely worth questioning. My experience there was HORRIBLE! Have you ever felt like anything you said or did was questioned? For example- during Technique Building Sessions ( these are what half of our day consisted of, learning techniques to manage classroom behavior, i.e. how to pass out papers) if I asked a question pertaining to the lesson, my competency would be questioned. If another fellow asked the SAME question he or she would be supported and the question would be answered. There are SOOOOO many examples… Also attendance was not correctly documented until the 2nd week so it made it very easy for them to lie and say who was late and wasn’t. No framework was ever taught and it was not going to be taught during the 6 week PST. PST consisted of learning and using techniques from Doug Lemov’s book ” Teach Like a Champion” to maintain high behavioral expectations. We never had framework sessions and our coach did not personally introduce herself to us until Day 3. Though she was there since Day 1. The program is definitely not what I thought it would be. There is no way someone without an education background will be successful in the classroom in the fall with the new curriculum DCTF has. The only thing a new teacher would be successful at is implementing routines in their classroom to maintain high behavior expectations and maximize instructional time. They will definitely not be successful in creating and implementing effective lesson plans that target multiple learning styles, instructing special need students ( which half of the students in D.C high needs schools are) and how to ACE the DC IMPACT evaluations. The program has really changed. I could go on and on… I am currently in a graduate program which will also provide licensure. I have been offered three positions and accepted one at an amazing high school in DC! Did DCTF do this for me? NO! lol My background in education did! Majority of my fellows were going on interviews and did not know how answer questions pertaining to curriculum and instruction so they were bombing these interviews..*sad face*..

    • Wow. HDWarrior, that was not my experience at all. I was told, though, that the DCTF program would be changing with the very next cohort after me. But your description of Sessions and your experience with your Fellow Advisor and the professionalism of the people involved are completely opposite of what I experienced. I had a wonderful FA and I felt Sessions and the assignments within them were geared towards helping me prepare lessons and respond to different learning styles. That was a huge part of every meeting, actually. Me and my sub-cohort of Math Fellows all felt very prepared for interviews.

      You mentioned that you had a background in education. I feel like I remember reading in their literature that they don’t recommend the program for people that already have a background in education. Precisely because their techniques and strategies are going to run a bit counter to more traditional educational programs. I’m not blaming you, I just mention this to point out that some initial conflict may have been inevitable. The rest of the treatment, based on your description, falls squarely on DCTF. What attracted you to DCTF if you already had education qualifications?

      I really hope your experience is not becoming the norm for the organization. I really liked DCTF and believed in what they were doing. I just wasn’t right for that type of program. I’m having a lot more success over here in Oregon.

  7. Thank you for this post and your videos. I found this site because I was interested in how people felt about DCTF, but what I am taking away has absolutely nothing to do with that program.

    I am so moved by your honesty and open-ness. I am going through a really difficult transition time myself, feeling a quarter-life crisis, unemployed, and I cannot begin to imagine how the future is going to unfold. DC is not a good place to be going through any of these things.

    I just want you to know that through the magic of the internet, you have really touched me and encouraged me to try to move beyond these feelings of inadequacy and fear.

    Thank you. You’re great, I can tell. :)

    • Wow :D

      Thank you for reading and for your kind praise. I took a big risk in moving to DC. And it didn’t pay off. I’m happy now, though, and I have the incredibly humbling experience to look back on.

      I was sick with fear when I was exited from the program. I cried, I got angry. I’d get dizzy just trying to think about what I was supposed to do next. I asked for some help from people close to me, and I used that as a foundation to find a new direction for my life.

      As you’re trying to figure your future out, always keep your aim on your passion, on what you want to be doing. Even if you have to settle for something less than ideal for a while, try to use it as a means of getting what you want. Don’t stop moving forward.

      Again, thank you for reading. I’m so glad my posts could help you in some way.

  8. This is extremely thorough and helpful. I have a phone interview with the DC Fellows tonight, actually, and have been a little confused about what to expect as the process moves forward (if it does for me). Your posts and honesty are inspiring. Thank you.

    There is one thing I am still unsure about. I know that there is a tuition involved for the Fellows program. Is there any sort of stipend for the Summer Institute? How does one support themselves through the process?

    Thank you again!

    • Thank you for reading; I’m glad my post was helpful.

      You’re right, there is a tuition for the Summer Institute. From what I remember there is a grant or stipend available, but you can’t apply for it until after the end of Institute. Which means you have to make it through the program to be eligible. So, what to do during the two months of training? I lived off of savings for those two months. I don’t think it is possible to work while you’re at Institute. There is a ton of work to do outside of the Sessions and Practice Teaching, including work samples, lesson prep and classwork grading. Plus you’ll be applying for teaching jobs this whole time, which means going to job fairs, going on interviews, and other networking.

      I dropped a lot of money (approximately $5000) into my failed attempt at the Fellows program. Keep in mind, my expenses included two round-trip flights, but it was still a huge money-sink. It is a major financial burden and you definitely have to figure out if you can even afford it.

      Again, thank you for reading. I’m happy to continue answering any questions you have. I wish you the best of luck and hope your experience is just as positive as mine, but far more successful!

      • I really appreciate the level of critical analysis and ownership that you express here. I hope that you do go on through a more standardized program and become a teacher. You show amazing critical thinking skills. As someone who has years of at-risk youth experience, and grew up in similar circumstances to the kids I will be teaching, I am pretty aware of the challenges I will be facing with the youth this summer. I don’t think there is a perfect program that fits all. I also believe, just as in college, an individuals experience will be shaped by their past, the specific program individuals with whom they are matched, and the specific kids with whom they are matched. I do think that from the feed back I have seen, the TNTP model works best for those who are not new to serving youth who are dealing with the realities of poverty, those with management experience, and those who can recognize behaviors in youth as forms of communication they are ill equipped to verbalize. I am excited about this summer, and feel really confident that it will be really hard, but great experience– and if it isn’t great, I know I can still make it what I need it to be in order to start teaching. For those of you that have been selected or are considering applying, I think great prep work would be to get to know kids who are living in difficult circumstances and see if you can relate to them. From everyting I have heard from people (both those who have been successful and those who have been dissatisfied), experience with youth (not teaching related), and experience in high need communities is a critical indicator of success. (Volunteering at the local Boys & Girls Club is a great place to do this…. ) I try to keep in mind, it’s not like traditional training is consistently kicking out teachers equipped to meet the needs of our at risk and adjudicated youth. Just my thoughts going in… Thanks for this posting.

        • Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

          It sounds like you are going in very prepared for what you will find in the program. You’re right, it is really hard but still a great experience.

          Your advice to applicants and candidates is great. Summer Institute moves very quickly and you don’t have time to get knocked back on your heels. If you spend the first week trying to recover from the shock of what you’re encountering, you’ll be behind on the experience.

          Thank you for your terrific comment. You should post about your experiences with the program, I’d be interested to read how it goes for you.

  9. So, I did not read all of these comments but…where did you get that vest and bowtie?!

    • Ha! Great question. First of all, bow-ties are cool ;) Secondly, let me point out that I wore that vest and bow-tie to my interview and was then accepted into the program.

      Both the bow-tie and the vest were a gift of encouragement from my partner at the time. The bow-tie was made by Mr. Moss on Etsy. He doesn’t have anything for sale right now, but his shop has a message that says he’ll have more bow-ties for sale very soon. The vest is from J. Crew.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience with DCTF!

  11. Hello, I was just accepted to the DC teaching fellows and have a few questions. First, I was wondering if you had to pay for the certification costs after being let go?

    • Hey there, Maddie. Congratulations on getting accepted. It’s a great program.

      I did not have to pay for the certification costs after I was exited from the program. They were pretty just about the whole process.

  12. I did it this summer and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It was just horrible, a waste of time and money. They weren’t supportive at all.

    • Wow. I noticed a lot of the people who ran it when I went through it have left. I wouldn’t doubt that it has gone down hill.

      I’m sorry that you had a bad experience. Did you end up getting a teaching position?

  13. Hi Ryan,
    I truly appreciate your post as I have been back and forth with the DC Teaching Fellows program for years. I was informed that for the upcoming school year, the DC program is currently not excepting applicants. Still my mind wonders to teaching, as if the experiences I have read and the sign of no acceptance is not enough.
    ~Atoya

    • Atoya, if you feel drive to teach, don’t let my experiences or DCTF’s situation stop you. I honestly think a Master’s program is a better way to get into teaching. I really enjoyed University of Oregon’s UOTeach program.

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