It's hard to believe that my six weeks of Institute are over and starting tomorrow almost be a full-time teacher...almost.
Just to catch everyone up, I moved into my apartment in New York about two weeks ago. After a brief trip to Florida, my parents and I took a road trip up the East Coast to bring all of my stuff to New York. After a few hair-raising minutes driving through Midtown, we finally arrived, with a U-haul and a car, to my apartment on the Upper West Side. A few hours later, it was unloaded and I was officially home.
However, my move is not the point of this blog. I wanted to take a few minutes to sum up my experiences at this summer's Institute.
To be honest, I never thought I'd miss my students. There were moments when I thought my patience would break and they would finally crack my shell. Surprisingly, despite all of the tribulations, I made it through four weeks of summer school and all of my students made their gains for the summer. Some of them went up two grade levels in reading! Pretty awesome.
Actually, my summer experience can be described in two short interactions with a couple of my students. The first came early in the last week of school. One of my students "forgot" my name, so one of my other students chimed in and said, "Hello! Are you stupid? His name is Mr. Van Owen, like Ms. Vo, our math teacher. Her name is V.O. because they're married and didn't want us to know. Right Mr. Van Owen? You leave your ring at home right?" I ALMOST lost it. It was the funniest moment of the entire summer.
The second came on the last week of school. My co-teacher and I through a small party to celebrate the end of the summer for our students. One of the boys came up to me and told me I was "thugness." Though I'm not sure what that means, I was flattered nonetheless.
If anything, my students taught me a lot more than I taught them -- despite my best efforts. I learned that being prepared was the best way to engage a group of middle school students, because regardless of how hard I tried to "keep it real" they always saw right through me. What I learned was that I had to think like a 14 year old and remember what it was like to be full of hormones with a relatively insecure teacher. After that, we made decent progress.
I also learned that teaching young students is not as easy as teaching my college students. My college students knew that they had to work hard to succeed. With middle schoolers, I have to convince them that working hard will lead them to success. Once again, it's all about my mindset as a teacher.
During the weeks since Institute, I've been trying to enjoy myself and spend some time with my family before they went back to Florida. The bonding was cut a little short with TFA Orientation, but it was worthwhile nonetheless.
I don't want this to drag on forever, so I'll end with this anecdote:
On our last night of orientation, the Chancellor of Education for the City of New York, Joel Klein, spoke to us. He said that teaching was a lot like sex. Ironic you say? Well so did I.
He continued: "Teaching is like sex. Think about it...the more relaxed you are, the better it's going to be!"
So I'll give a more detailed reflection on the summer later, but I wanted everyone to know that all of my students that completed their final assessments made their summer growth goals. That means that they grew by at least one grade level in reading and writing!
moved to New York City in June 2008 to start summer institute for Teach for America. He attended the University of Florida, where he earned both his master's and bachelors' degrees. He teaches English, literacy, and writing to seventh and eighth graders, as well as advises the school newspaper, yearbook, and student council. His school is in Washington Heights, NY.