I’ve officially been in Philadelphia for four weeks but it still feels like I got here yesterday. I can’t believe I’m about to start my last week of Institute — the past four weeks have simultaneously been some of the most rewarding and challenging of my life. I’ve met a ton of tremendously awesome people, grown significantly as a person, and also feel like I’ve been pretty well prepared to get into my region in August. But, I’ll save the overall reflections for after the final week, and instead I want to focus on Friday… which has easily been my most memorable day of Institute so far.
The day started off on a bad note when I woke up and it was raining — fortunately, it was only the second time it’s been raining on a school day, but it still meant I had to walk the half-mile to the dining hall in the rain. Boo. In addition to the rain, I forgot my lunch box and also wasn’t able to wake up my student who was supposed to come in for extra tutoring — not the best morning so far.
Things started looking up when I got on the bus to school and people were energetically singing Christmas carols to honor our school director (it’s kind of hard to explain but just go with it). The rain had pretty much stopped by then so when I got to school I was feeling a little more optimistic about the day. Three of my students were supposed to come in early for tutoring, though only one was actually able to — the rain kind of threw everyone off. Still, I had a good session working with her, and was feeling pretty positive going into class. Then, right before class started one of my students gave me a card that said I was her favorite summer school teacher and thanked me for working with her this summer. The card completely turned my day around and put the biggest smile on my face; it’s definitely my highlight of Institute so far. This particular student was a bit of a behavior issue at the beginning of the term but I’ve been making an effort to connect with her and get her more on board during class, so it was nice to feel like that paid off.
My teaching partner teaches the first half of class, so once class got started I sat in the back with one of my students and answered a lot of his questions on the content. Then, towards the end of his half I started working with other students one-on-one, and had my back towards most of the class when I started to hear noise escalating behind me. Next thing I know two students were engaged in a very vocal argument that ended with one student excusing himself from class and leaving to cool off. I left to check in with him while my teaching partner reigned everyone back in. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out what happened from the student who had left, and then the deans took over to straighten everything out.
I returned to class as my teaching partner was finishing up his half and then took over for my segment of lead teaching — the class was somewhat subdued because they all wanted to know what had happened but I tried to just forge ahead with the material. Then, about 10 minutes in to my lesson the executive director of the TFA Massachusetts region walked in to observe my class (!!!). Needless to say, it was a bit of a surprise and it took a lot of concentration to keep moving forward. I owe a lot to my students for behaving really well and engaging strongly with the content while I was being observed. Everyone was focused, taking good notes, and one student in particular asked several high-level questions. Thanks to them I was able to make it through to the end of class and overall I think the observation went pretty well.
To recap, I’d seen my students at their worst and at their best behaviorally in a span of about 30 minutes. Since class was over, I went upstairs for a session and about halfway through was pulled out by a dean — I assumed it would be about the incident that happened in class earlier but turns out I was in for my next surprise of the day. One of my students (actually the one I mentioned earlier who I sat in the back with) is apparently supposed to have been going to both periods of precalculus and not just the one my teaching partner and I teach. It was pretty disheartening news since he technically needs credit for both classes to get his diploma and they’re not yet sure how the situation is going to resolve. This student has been working really hard in my class and reaches out a lot for extra help, so I find it hard to believe that he would purposefully not have been going to the other period, but that’s currently what he is being accused of. We’re supposedly figuring everything out tomorrow, so right now I’m just hoping for the best.
After that news I was kind of down again but went back in to finish out the session. When it was over I called one of the students who was involved in the argument earlier, and turns out he was still sitting across the street from school. So, I went out to talk with him for a little bit about what happened, and he was very introspective and regretful over how he handled the situation. But, because he was suspended for the incident and also has two previous tardies/absences he faces a retention hearing on Monday — they could decide that he won’t be able to get credit for the summer school class. This student has also been working hard in class and so I was pretty upset that he might not be able to continue. The deans told me the best way I could advocate for him was to speak with the principal, so I spoke with him about the situation but he told me that either way they have a difficult decision — they either make a decision that directly negatively impacts the student or they make a decision that sends a message to the rest of the students that their rules are flexible. Either way, someone loses.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful — we sang some more Christmas carols for my school director (again, go with it) and then got to go home a few minutes early for a happy hour with everyone from my school. Friday was definitely a wake-up call for me in regards to my relationships with my students — I have been working really hard to build strong relationships with all of them this summer and care a lot for all of them. But, I need to keep in mind that I will never be able to fix everything for them and sometimes they are going to have to live with the consequences of their own actions/decisions. I really hope that both of these students are going to be able to continue in class for the rest of the week but I won’t find out until tomorrow. I’m looking forward to finishing up this session of summer school but definitely am not ready to leave the people here yet. This week I have a final dinner with my advisory group, Institute closing ceremonies, my students’ final exam, and a final celebration with my students, plus still trying to teach through Friday — it’s going to be an interesting week, to say the least. Wish me luck!