Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 31 2012

Welcome, 2012s! Here is advice for you.

I recently sent out an insanely long email to the five new Dumas corps members, and immediately felt like I’m doin’ too much. To help rationalize the amount of time (too much) I spent ranting, I’m posting it here. I know TFAnet probs has about 800 more, but here’s the C-line Spin.


(how to be) Totally F’n Awesome: 

1) Figure out your email.
You might have literally 3,000 emails in your inbox, but email management = less stress, and is a good life skill. This guy has a lot to say about this, and titled it “bit literacy.”

  • Archive anything not immediately relevant, or anything you’ve already read
  • If a task is less than 10 minutes do it immediately when you read the email. Just do it and move on.
  • Anything that asks an action of you (5 minute email response, friend email, etc.) keep it [unread] in your inbox until you finish it
  • Try to keep your inbox to one page of emails (my inbox never goes over 25)

2) Decide how to stay in touch.
If you’re like me and prefer writing over talking (notice I haven’t called anyone yet?!), set up a blog (at! which is only for TFA!) If you do like talking, decide now the exact day and time you will regularly call your boyfriend/ mom/ BFF/ whoever keeps you sane. You will need that person! More than that, that person is going to have absolutely no concept of what you’re going through. Sometimes it feels easier to just go to bed then call, but those calls can be really important to the people that love you. And having one thing to look forward to every week (day?) really helps. (Also, start asking for care packages now.)

3) Do pre-work, but don’t stress pre-work.
As a CMA who may or may not be asked to “check” to see what you did: I’m not going to “check” anything. You will not get in trouble for not doing/finishing it, but having it done will have a huge positive impact on your experience overall. So if you’re not finished, don’t stress, but don’t ignore it, either. (No idea if y’all have the amount I did, but I didn’t come close to finishing mine…)

4) Plan your summer trip if you’re taking one.
I went home between institute and school starting, and I’m very glad I did. It was a great breather before everything went cray cray in “real” teaching. Again, I’m sure you’ll be better prepared than I was at institute, but taking that trip also helped minimize the “WTH AM I DOING” period of excruciating uncertainty with those first planning documents.

5) Set up habits your first week of institute.
Similar to the phone call and email deal. Think about how you know you should live/act before you get to institute, and stick to it if you can. Routine helps the constant unpredictable things seem more manageable, and planning for consistent sleep & breakfast helps tons. My institute aims (feel free to hold me accountable, hah) are: run three times a week, go out Fridays, spend all Saturdays outside, work Sundays, and all weekday schedules will be school, dinner, run, work.

6) Know Caroline is relatively cray cray.
You might be able to tell that I was an RA for two years in school, an orientation leader, I am obsessed with welcoming people, etc. I don’t want to overload you, but I want you to be prepared as possible! ALSO, I know plenty of you are older than me and you’re all probs incredibly “older” with intellect, kindness, endurance, ability to own dogs, etc. so I reeeally hope this doesn’t sound patronizing or anything grossly similar. I’m pretty sure I would’ve loved emails like this coming in, but feel free to ignore my tangents!

9 Responses

  1. #1 = SO TRUE. TFA has made me the master of email management.

  2. els

    #1, #2, #3 — heck, all of them. especially the last one.

  3. els

    #1, #2, #3 — heck, all of them. especially the last one.

  4. G

    Totally agree with #5…take Saturday completely off…you will be so much happier!

  5. nontfateacher

    Read “The Daily 5″, “The First Days of School”, anything by Debbie Diller, and Fountas and Pinnell.

    Read something worthwhile, none of your BS TFA literature. Read things that will make y’all two year committed folks better at teaching. You will be screwed over if you continue to drink the TFA kooaid. Do some research at the school that you’ll be placed at. Learn which programs you’ll be using when you start in the fall. Ask questions. Get informed. Don’t believe everything TFA has to offer.

    • Hey girl,
      Thanks so much for adding to the advice! Also, so glad you decided to contribute, despite not being in the same position. We love the traditional perspective on the TFA program.

      I am, however, going to go back on your “BS” label to TFA literature. I’m wondering if you have any idea what the pre-work for TFA was this year, and if there’s a reason why you think it should be labeled like that. I’m sure you’re aware that there’s a huge, incredible design team that is putting out pre-work every year that directly aligns with the regions teachers are going to, the mindsets that have created successful teachers in the past (TFA and not, because TFA research includes traditional practices and ideas). ALSO! TFA recommends and talks about “The First Days of School” and Fountas and Pinnell all the time, though I haven’t read “The Daily 5″ yet.

      I also really don’t appreciate your saying “You will be screwed over if you continue to drink the TFA koo[l]aid.” I completely disagree and don’t think it’s wise to make such a statement, especially if you are not a and teach with no TFA teachers. The experience differs widely by region, and I think our new CMs should be able to form their own opinions about the “koolaid” — positive or not.

      Regardless, thanks for your comment and for your advice! It’s always great to hear from a different perspective.


  6. Delta Teacher

    As a TFA teacher, I would like to point out that TFA does, in fact, produce quality literature on teaching literacy. Their elementary literacy text, which I’ll assume you haven’t read, actually references not only Fountas and Pinnell, but Isabel Beck, Goudvis and Harvey, Timothy Rasinski, Lucy Calkins, Patricia Cunningham, Richard Allington, and plenty of other well respected researchers and educators. TFA’s literacy text is what led me to those authors as I decided to explore more in depth. No, it did not lead me to Debbie Diller, and I actually find it funny that you recommend both The Daily 5 and Debbie Diller in tandem, because they are often contradictory. As a TFA-er who has done both the Debbie Diller approach and now does Daily 5 in my class, as well as supporting other teachers working to incorporate the Daily 5, I find it silly that you would recommend a novice teacher to read both. Also, reading Fountas and Pinnell was actually not particularly useful to my development as a teacher because it’s incredibly dry and assumes that I have a leveled book library (ha). I would recommend many other books that explain the structure of guided reading (including Debbie Diller’s) before suggesting someone read Fountas and Pinnell cover to cover. Finally, as Caroline mentioned, TFA highly recommends reading The First Days of School, and many new corps members arrive at Institute with it in hand, as I did.

    So, while I obviously am a huge proponent of improving your pedagogical knowledge by reading, I would certainly disagree with the “BS” label. And “asking questions” and “getting informed” is not always an option–I attempted to, but was thankful that I had TFA’s training and my additional reading to support me when I walked in the door and was handed a hodge-podge of textbooks without corresponding materials my first day. Thank goodness, then, for that supposed BS.

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