emily.garvey@gmail.com'

About Emily Garvey

A Houston 2010 corps member with three years teaching middle school social studies under her belt. Currently on a self-proclaimed "sabbatical" backpacking solo around the world and (hopefully) discovering the meaning of life.

Welcome Corps Members! #2

Howdy, y’all!

(I’m kidding. A Texas placement DOES NOT mean that you’ll end up sounding like that … though I do own a pretty sweet pair of cowboy boots.)

My name is Emily and I was a 2010 Houston corps member, originally from Connecticut. As a two-year Institute veteran (once as a corps member, once as a Resource Room Specialist), the best piece of advice I can give you as you embark on your TFA adventure: stay flexible. I like to think of it as trusting “TFA Fate” that whatever surprises teaching might throw at you, everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. (Really.)

And if that doesn’t do it for you, here’s the most memorable comment given to me before I entered Institute. I was visiting Houston for Preview Weekend, and a corps member one year older than me said, “Think about it: your students are already out there somewhere, just waiting for you to change their lives.”

Welcome to Teach For America!

- Emily

(This is one of a series of letters to incoming corps members from current corps members and alumni. If you’d like to write a letter to incoming corps members, please email us.)

The Hardest Thing About Institute

tissues

(Photo: juditk, flickr)

For me, the hardest part of Institute—harder than packing up and moving to a brand new city, harder than learning new kids and new content, harder than the long days and late nights—was the feedback.

Let’s just say I’m not the most graceful at accepting criticism.

It’s not like I thought I’d get to Institute and immediately know exactly what I was doing in the classroom … I guess I just didn’t think I’d get to Institute and immediately feel so bad at it.

In retrospect, I was not a terrible teacher. But, like probably every single incoming corps member, “not terrible” was not exactly what I was going for. Transformational … that’s what I wanted, and I wanted it fast. One Day? Psh. Let’s do this TODAY.

Why Every Teacher Should Embrace the Read Aloud

Galveston's Summer of the Storm

A sample “book report” that my students completed after our read-aloud.

An unprompted exchange between two of my students last week:

“I would rate the book 6.2 stars.”

“Dude, it’s out of five!”

“I know.”

One of the key lessons that stuck with me from my Institute experience three years ago: Every teacher is a literacy teacher.

It doesn’t take much time in the classroom to see how true this really is. The biggest issue my students have with the social studies standardized test is not content, but vocabulary. So setting aside all test prep and curriculum guides, I embarked on the journey of an ELA teacher this past month … and read a novel with my kids. Out loud. During class.

Whatever your content area, whatever your grade level, and whatever your class materials, this is something I’d definitely recommend for every classroom.

Here’s why:

Fighting Guilt to Take a Time-Out from Teaching

empty classroom #1 - Quincy College

(Photo credit: jenlight)

On the last day of Saturday tutorials, my absolute favorite seventh grade student stopped me in the hallway to give me the biggest hug.

“I’m going to have Ms. Garvey again next year for eighth grade,” she stated confidently, and my heart broke into a million pieces.

Yes, she was supposed to be in my class again next year… if I hadn’t already turned in my Early Notification Letter and told my principal that instead of closing the Gap next year, I will be solo backpacking around the world.

Yes, seriously.

I feel overwhelmingly selfish. I am leaving my kids for a cliche of a reason. And really: I am a teacher for low-income students–how much more meaning can I possibly need to be satisfied? But as my third year in the classroom comes to a close, I still feel as though there is something missing. And so, I am setting off into the world to see what I can find.

Here’s the thing: I think I might want to be a teacher forever. Maybe. On good days. And sometimes, actually, even on bad days. In all seriousness, I love my job. And more than anything, I don’t want to be a statistic—yet another TFA corps member quitting the classroom after only a few years—leaving was never in “The Plan” for me.

In The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau writes, “The time to leave the best job in the world is right before you get tired of it.” And after approximately 10,000 hours of working over the course of my three years, I’m teetering on the edge of exhaustion.

Luckily, those 10,000 hours never left me with much time for expensive dinners, fancy drinks out, or even shopping. Slowly, my painful first years of teaching transformed into a sizable savings account. And then I read The Alchemist. And devoured this documentary about backpacking. And watched this TED Talk about the sabbatical. And I was sold.

So before I turn 26-years-old and commit myself to a career as “Ms. Garvey,” I’ve decided to give myself one last year as “Emily.”

How Open-Ended Tests Revolutionized My Teaching

pink pencil break

(Photo credit: Adam Foster | Codefor)

Call me crazy, but I love unit testing my seventh graders. On those days, there are no mandated number two pencils, no process-of-elimination strategies, and definitely no bubbles to fill in—just lots (and lots) of blank lines and the sweet scratching sound of writing utensil on paper.

It started at the end of my second year teaching. The year was winding down and my kids were at the end of their testing limit. After at least 10 mandated state tests, the last thing I wanted to do was slam them with the TFA-created End of Year exam–especially because the main reason for the test was to complete a tracker as a way to provide TFA with a reflection of me, probably the least student-centric reason to make my kids work through a 90-minute exam.

I called my MTLD, and fought hard against giving ANY kind of EOY… until she convinced me otherwise. (Even if the state didn’t care, didn’t my kids deserve to see the progress they made that year? And looking forward, wouldn’t this feedback help me adjust my teaching for the upcoming year–for my kids who were looping with me, and for my new kids?) And so, a compromise landed with me creating a series of short, open-ended “quizzes” that would still work with my tracker, but better assess the skills they had learned throughout the year.

The Forgotten Teacher: Perks of Teaching Untested Subjects

empty classroom #1 - Quincy College

(Photo credit: jenlight)

It’s testing season and the clock is ticking. High-pressure countdowns, elaborate review games, new investment plans–every classroom is in overdrive right now.

…unless, like me, you happen to be one of the unmentionables: The teachers of untested subjects.

Last year, there was an entire month when I did not teach three-quarters of my students. At all. Yes, for the month of April, no seventh grader in my entire school learned social studies.

(Full disclosure: I also teach a tested subject to the other one-quarter of my students…and that month was spent double-blocked with them. I have seen both sides.)

At times it’s frustrating, getting tossed aside for the sake of the subjects considered “more important” in the eyes of the administration and the state of Texas, but it can also be a blessing.

Prep For Year Three: How to Solidify Your Network

Rolodex

(Photo credit: renaissancechambara)

Filed under things I never thought I’d say: sometimes, I really wish I could transport back to my first or second year teaching.

… Fine, that MIGHT be overkill. But midway through my third year in the classroom, I’ve already come up with a long list of things that I miss about being an active corps member—and things I wish I did when I had the chance.

Number one (besides actually making a move on my Institute crush): Networking.

As corps members, we are forced into settings where we are given opportunities to be observed, coached, mentored, and developed by a multitude of people. But what happens when your two-year commitment is up?

Teaching Tutorials: Making the most of after-school and Saturday small groups

Working with students in small groups for tutoring presents some unique challenges.

Working with students in small groups for tutoring presents some unique challenges. (Photo: Teach For America)

My first two years of teaching, I dreaded tutorials. The after-school and Saturday tutoring sessions always dragged—I didn’t want to be there, my kids didn’t want to be there, and I had no idea how to make small-group instruction meaningful. I also quickly learned that just coming in and saying “So … what do you guys need help with?” to a bunch of eighth graders is not the most effective strategy.

This year, I changed things up. I committed to starting my tutorials earlier in the year for more even coverage instead of cramming everything in a few weeks before the test, and I set up a common structure for each one: Less than 30 minutes of a reading or writing activity together, and then a game for the rest of the session.

I still wasn’t sure if it was working until a few weeks ago when I overheard one of my most difficult students say: “This is fun!” while matching a “Jamestown” flashcard to “1607.” Score.

I’m also actually using my data—an obvious, but often overlooked idea. I change my tutoring list as we take assessments and focus on objectives they had the most trouble on. But that’s just the beginning. Here are some other best practices I’ve picked up that you can put into practice in your next tutorial: