KIPP SHARP Prep fourth grade teacher Peter Willett answers questions about his Graduate Teaching Fellowship experience.
Why did you decide to become a Graduate Teaching Fellow?
In the year after I graduated college, I slowly became aware that I didn’t actually know everything and have the experience for all of the teaching jobs I was looking for. I started about halfway through the year, looking for more programs like this one. Before that, I’d been looking for jobs where I could step right into teaching. Thankfully, that didn’t work out.
I found GTF through a friend who had done Teach for America in Houston. I liked the structure and how you are really involved. You’ve got opportunities to fail, which is very important because you learn from the failures. By happenstance, it fell into my lap after a lot of looking for other teaching jobs. Thankfully, it worked out that way.
What did you gain most completing the Graduate Teaching Fellowship?
I think that the best thing you get out of the program is learning what areas you could still improve. You want to be growing and progressing in areas that remain challenging.
Also, over the course of the program, you learn a lot of basic teaching presence skills. You spend time working on strong voice, physical stance, positive behavior narration, clear (and high) expectations and clear instructions, enforceable statements and economy of language. You spend a few months honing those skills because it’s very awkward to practice them when you’re not doing them on a daily basis. So having to deliberately practice it all, makes you internalize it.
What would you tell someone who is considering becoming a Graduate Teaching Fellow?
I’d say do it, and it’s worthwhile. I think it’s a good experience. The program continues to improve as they align more and plan the resident advisors.
Did you have a favorite moment as a Graduate Teaching Fellow?
I have a student who has a hard time staying focused. But he’s super, super bright. You can tell that he needs a lot of sensory stimulation. He needs a lot of color, and different learning ways to keep him focused and on target. He can be resistant to reading books that don’t have pictures in them. At first, I gave him the Persepolis books, which he devoured. Now he’s reading a graphic novel version of the Odyssey - half the original text and half sort of modified dialogue. I have a couple of graphic novelizations of Shakespeare plays that are original dialogue only with illustrations. So he’s diving into that.
In what ways did the fellowship challenge you?
You have to film yourself in class practicing all the skills you are learning. You run out of excuses for not executing them at that point. You can’t smart talk your way through it or write a paper and make it all about your writing. You have to actually practice and implement the learning. Some of those skills are uncomfortable to execute and they feel awkward when you’re trying them out. Sometimes they won’t work the first time or the second or third time either. You get really frustrated, but you have to film yourself doing it successfully and that’s what forces you to continue to do it. Those challenges are really important.
How do you feel you grew personally going through the fellowship?
I think it was very humbling to be in the situation of getting your butt-kicked a lot and going through meaningful failure. You can’t say, ‘oh I wasn’t able to do that well.’ It’s more like ‘oh I wasn’t able to do that well and therefore, kids didn’t learn.’ This program was a huge part of that for me. My mindset is different now. I’m always reflecting about what didn’t work in a lesson and what I can improve.
If you are interested in applying for the KIPP Houston Graduate Teaching Fellowship, please visit here.