Monday will mark the first day of school for KIPP Houston’s nearly 12,500 KIPPsters and 1,350 faculty and staff. Every new school year takes me back to my first day as a teacher seven years ago.
As a 2008 Teach for America corps member, I was nervous but optimistic that first day when I faced my 100 6th graders and introduced myself as Ms. Brock (a name they seemed to confuse with Ms. Barack thanks to the 2008 election). I’d prepared all I could for that first day; I’d prepped my first few weeks of lessons, spent tons of time creating a classroom management system, and even purchased a small carpet to create an inviting reading center.
What I wish I’d known is that I was incredibly unprepared for that semester and year. My lesson plans seemed to miss the mark every day; rigor was a word with which I was completely unfamiliar. My classroom management system became an overly generous term for the art of texting the PE coach to come help. Even that inviting reading center fell apart after I was too tired to replace the carpet following a particularly brutal stomach bug that attacked my students during reading time.
I limped into September incredibly unsure I’d make it through my two-year commitment much less to Christmas break. I made it, and initially felt good about completing two, full years of teaching.
That feeling of pride was short-lived. While I love my job as KIPP’s Director of Talent Acquisition, my biggest regret is leaving the classroom. I’ve since had the opportunity to see some of the most amazing teachers in Houston and the nation right here in KIPP. I’m jealous. I wanted so badly to be that teacher kids couldn’t wait to see every day. The one they came home and talked about non-stop. The one they thanked in their high school valedictorian speech.
When I think about why I left the classroom so soon, I’m convinced it came down to those first few disastrous months.
I believe I’d still be in the classroom today if during that first year I had the chance to learn more, observe more, and practice more. So you can see why I might be jealous after having spent a week with our Graduate Teaching Fellows in their Summer Institute classes.
Our Graduate Teaching Fellowship is a two-year program, and in the first year, fellows are paired with a mentor teacher and gradually increase their teaching responsibilities. They start off the year observing, move to teaching the first half of the class by December, and by the end of the year, they are teaching the whole class. It isn’t until year two that our fellows take over as lead teachers in their own classroom.
Equally as important as their gradual release, our fellows spend time learning at Relay Graduate School of Education. They take evening and Saturday classes each month, and they have weekly practice sessions with their peers so they can continue to perfect a specific strategy before using it with their students. They will also earn a Master's in teaching degree from Relay.
KIPP Houston hired 47 amazing teachers to join our Graduate Teaching Fellowship for the next two years (joining the 14 teachers moving into year two of the program). I know the work they put in this year will not only transform their lives, but the lives of our KIPPSters. I only wish the program had been in existence seven years ago. Perhaps then I’d still be coming to work every day as Ms. ‘Barack’.