About Blair Mishleau

Blair Mishleau came to Minneapolis by way of Chicago after earning a degree in digital journalism and American Sign Language at Columbia College Chicago. He teaches English Language Learners, and is still getting his sea legs as a 2012 Teach For America corps member. His educational passions include teaching conventional usage, media fluency, and grammatical symbols like the ampersand.

Institute Tips: Get SOM Love!

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

The blessing and the curse of Institute is the sheer number of human beings whose job it is to help you in some way, shape, or form. It’s like acronym city and everyone has something to offer!

That being said, you’ve been around for a few weeks (which, in Institute time, is a few months) and it’s high time you get friendly with an awesome person: your SOM (School Operations Manager). (Note: If you’re not at a National/Centralized Institute, your SOM may have a variety of creative and unique terms, but this person essentially helps run operations at one or more school sites.)

Your SOM. Words cannot describe how awesome he or she is. I don’t say this because I was a SOM last summer, of course.

Institute Tips: Lesson-Planning Breakdown

(Photo credit: Hugh Gallagher)

They say he’s in the details. (Photo credit: Hugh Gallagher)

So, you’re lesson-planning. Maybe you feel like you’re about to have a breakdown. Your Corps Member Advisor is there to help, of course, but if you want another way to have it explained or just need some sass in your life, read on!

First, some perspective on who the heck I am:

Hi, I’m Blair! I’m a Corps Member Advisor at the Tulsa Institute (woot!), and I finished up TFA in the Twin Cities region about a week ago (yup, I’m a newly minted alum… yikes!).

Now, let’s break down lesson-planning in three quick-and-dirty concepts:

1) Start your lesson plan by thinking about WHAT kiddos can DO and HOW they will explain your objective after you’ve taught them. If you’re teaching multiplication, what will it look like for your kiddos to DO the math, show their work, and explain their answer? This is why your exemplar response is so important. Side note: If YOU don’t know the skill, you’ll have the darndest time teaching it. Make sure you can explain the skill backwards and forwards. Try explaining it to your beau, your mom, or a friend via phone—if you can do it there, you can teach it!

Institute: Don’t Be Freaked Out

(Photo credit: Nate Steiner)

(Photo credit: Nate Steiner)

It was the first day of teaching for all Tulsa Institute corps members. This day had been coming for many months, since the moment they were first accepted into the corps.

All of this time boiled down to their first hour in the classroom. It’s a lot of pressure.

As a School Operations Manager, I was doing my rounds (most likely re-taping signage or putting up a bulletin board) when I saw him. Ross. Sitting outside of his classroom, on the floor. He wasn’t crying, but the look on his face communicated his utter inner turmoil.

I sat down next to him and asked what was up. He candidly told me how absolutely awful his first lesson had gone.

How to Quickly and Authentically Build Relationships with Students

(Photo credit: Alice Combes)

(Photo credit: Alice Combes)

“This is really important, so I want to be sure everyone is remaining engaged. I know we’re tired, but you’ll need this through your two years of teaching!”

During Institute (and Professional Saturdays), this phrase was invoked time and time again. Often, it cued a silent ugh in my head as I struggled to stay awake. The thing is, I didn’t think the session I was sitting through was unimportant, but I just struggled with the fact that everything was given A-level status. As hard as I wanted to be a great teacher, I couldn’t make all of the advice and strategies I got a priority.

But two years later, while reflecting on my time at Institute, there’s one thing that I do wish I had given A-level status. Interestingly enough, it was one thing that wasn’t given very much exposure during my two years as a CM:

Building relationships with students.

Building relationships with kids is SO important, especially when you’re working with Institute students for just a few short weeks. When I was going through Institute, we had the one-off anecdotes about contacting parents, or ideas for team-building activities, but that was about it.

I’m here to tell you that to get kids to work their butts off for you during their summer, there HAS to be a relationship. Think about it: if some random person came to you and demanded hard work during your summer, how would you feel? Probably weirded out. If students know you as a human being, and know that you care about them, they’re way more likely to put in said hard work.

Institute Staff Members: We’re Not Magical Robots of Awesome

(Photo credit: Robin Zebrowski)

(Photo credit: Robin Zebrowski)

Two years ago, when I was starting Institute as a brand-new corps member, I had many questions and loose assumptions about what the experience would be like. I was curious about housing, my students, the training, and just how exactly I would master the art of lesson planning and behavior management in a few short weeks.

Most of all, though, I had questions and assumptions about who worked at Institute. In a nutshell, I assumed that everyone on staff—from the School Director to the School Operations Manger to my Corps Member Advisor—was a Magical Robot of Awesome.

Sure, they weren’t necessarily perfect, but I just assumed (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) that they were really, really good at everything education-wise, and that’s why they were there to drop knowledge on me.

Because of this, I often internalized my Corps Member Advisor’s actions, which I thought were the actions of a really, really good teacher. Remember being in, say, sixth grade and analyzing your teacher’s every action? Why’d she dress up today? Why did he create a new seating chart? What does she do on the weekend?

Yeah, I was sort of like that with my CMA.

Think There’s Nothing We Can Do About Name-Calling? Think Again.

It’s no secret that bullying (be it at school, on the playground, or online) is a huge barrier to kids’ wellness and achievement. The data is grim, particularly for LGBT students of color or from low-income backgrounds.

The problem is clear, but the solution is murky. One big step in the right direction, however, is talking about it—more than once, and in a way that’s accessible and engaging to students. I know, I know, small task, right?

As a teacher, I’ve observed too many examples of bullying without having the tools needed to discuss and unpack this behavior with students. As my kiddos’ teacher, nothing hurts more than to be at a loss when one student causes hurt to another.

The GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and its national partners are helping remedy this with No Name-Calling Week, running Jan. 20-24.

Why Co-Teaching Is Twice the Work

(Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

(Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

For the start of Year Two, I found out I’d be co-teaching. After preening for a few minutes at my good fortune, I thought of all the time I’d be saving by having another person to shoulder the work. After all, I thought, having a second person by me every moment of teaching would cut my work in half.



If anything, having a co-teacher has made me work much harder than I did most days during Year One, and definitely not because my co-teacher is lazy. If anything, it’s because she is so much the opposite of that.

We’re doing a lot more with our kids, going above and beyond what would be possible with just one person. But from the typical measures of time and effort spent, having a co-teacher hasn’t really helped, because we feed off of each other’s desire to be excellent teachers.

Am I doing it wrong? Not necessarily. I think my co-teacher and I are leveraging each others’ crazy work ethic and devotion to kiddos, which is great. Nonetheless, I feel like I would have benefitted quite a bit from a good heart-to-heart from a veteran co-teacher before diving into this year.

So I’m going to save you a few dozen hundred hours of work, should you ever happen to co-teach (and heck, a lot of these are good for co-worker relationships in general).

The Final Stretch: Preparing for the Last Semester with TFA


(Photo credit: Sarah Reid)

Pro/con analyses have gotten me through some tricky situations. They’ve helped me move forward with things that scared me—joining TFA, applying to the Peace Corps, being in a long-distance relationship, etc.—and have pushed me to be brave.

The process gets much more complicated, though, when children are involved. As I near the end of my two-year commitment (side note: when did having 25% of a commitment left mean that I was near the end?), I am filled with too many thoughts, in and out of my own head, to make sense of it all.

“You don’t have to do anything for anyone. You’ve already given enough.”

“What would your school do without you?”

“Having a gay teacher—closeted or not—is a huge deal for your kids.”

“When are you going to have time to be a 20-something?”

“Mr. Mishleau… are you going to quit?”