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how to survive delta institute

if you haven’t taught for america or you’re not about to teach for america, this post probably won’t interest you very much. basically,  one component of the program is something called institute. essentially, they put eight hundred of you in dorms & bus you all off to schools at 5am & you sweat through professional clothes & learn to be a teacher. it’s more fun than it sounds.

now for people who know what I’m talking about… this is a little bit belated, because ya’ll are probably just entering the throes of institute. but here are a few thoughts from someone who has been there.

1 :: read teach like a champion before you get there. the pre work is awesome, but largely abstract. teach like a chamption is so incredibly practical. some of the stuff is gonna be hard to conceptualize if you’ve never been in a classroom, but at least read the chapters “cold call” & “no opt out.”

2 :: bring dvds. no, you won’t have time to marathon a season of the wire. yes, you will sometimes want to watch an episode of the office or friends after a long day. it’s a good chill thing to do with your roommate/hall mates. the internet at delta state was super slow last year so unless that’s been fixed, netflix & hulu are not viable options. bring a funny movie or a season of your favorite tv show on dvd.

3 :: if you’re a girl, load up on the cardigans. delta state is cold. buuut the buses are h-o-t (unless you’re one of those people that always manages to score that one bus with AC). to cope with the stifling bus heat, I had a uniform of sorts–sleeveless sundress w/ a cardigan or a button up shirt over a tank top. on the bus i wore either just the dress or the tank top minus the cardigan/button up. then i just got professional when we pulled up in the parking lot. if you’re a guy…. you’re gonna be hot. i’m sorry.

4 :: if you work at one of the sites that’s about an hour or so away (& most of you will), then you will have about 48 total hours of bus time over the course of institute. I probably slept for 45 of those hours. if you can sleep on a school bus, do it. if not, have books or podcasts or whatever it is you non sleeping people do. just realize that bus time is a substantial chunk of time & use it wisely.

5 :: the food situation… i’m not gonna lie, delta state lunches were rough. bring granola bars or something. as far as dinner in the caf goes, the pizza was good and the salad bar was decent. there’s a good breakfast place on hwy 82. airport grocery was yummy. the warehouse took a really long time (& was overpriced for entrees, in my opinion) but their potato soup to go is really good if you happen to get sick for a week like I did. there’s no microwave in lawler hawkins, so you will be disappointed if you bring popcorn (speaking from experience). also: the fridge is small for 250 people to share. don’t be the guy that left his cafeteria pizza to go box in there for two weeks. DO be the guy that got a huge box of those freeze pops & put them in the freezer with a note that said other people were welcome to take one. we liked that guy.

6 :: I am not a morning person & I need a good amount of sleep to be functional. things I did to get around the institute sleep situation: use dry shampoo (I never showered in the morning during institute), & get both breakfast to go and lunch to go.

7 :: fun stuff to do… there’s a pool that you can pay $5 to use if you’re TFA, ask around. that’s really nice to do one saturday afternoon. we drove to the movies in greenville at least twice. we also drove to greenville for 4th of july but it wasn’t worth it– cleveland’s fireworks were WAY better. go eat lunch at the crown in indianola (disclaimer: I haven’t been but I’ve only heard fabulous things). get yogurt at matty & suzette’s frozen yogurt place & then tell everyone else you see to also get yogurt at said yogurt place. if you’re really feeling adventurous (or needy), come to jackson… there’s an apple store (if, heaven forbid, you have computer woes), places to get professional clothes if you need more, ethnic food (!!!), an art museum with a kick butt mississippi art exhibit… & my house, where you are welcome to stay. I’ll feed you chocolate chip cookies. my husband makes good coffee.

8 :: enjoy your institute experience to the fullest. TFA isn’t perfect & institute isn’t perfect. but it’s pretty incredible… not because it teaches you how to be the best teacher ever in four weeks (it doesn’t). but because you will never ever be surrounded by that kind of talent, resources, & coaching again. you will never have UNLIMITED PAPER & COPIES ever again. you will never have that coach to learner ratio again. you might never have in person advice from national specialists in your content area… ever again. you probably won’t have people passing out playdough, popsicles & high fives in your placement school. whenever my teacher friends & i get together, we don’t talk about how awful instute was… we talk about how sometimes we wish we still lived in institute world.

that said, I wouldn’t go back. institute world was fun, but it’s not the real world. I miss all the coaching & advice. I miss free copying & it being ok not to know anything about anything. but I love being in my real community, working with kids that are my kids for as long as I can stay (way longer than 5 weeks), living in a house with an oven & friends just around the corner. when institute seems absolutely insurmountable, take a deep breath & remind yourself… institute is awesome. & institute is temporary.

go forth & conquer, friends. for better or for worse, you’ll remember it forever.


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