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.