About Kathy Choi

Kathy works for a non-profit strategy consulting firm in San Francisco, CA. She was a 2010 DC corps member and taught 2nd grade and Kindergarten in DC's Ward 7. Kathy devotes her life to her passions - urban education reform and rooting for Duke basketball.

Books that will change how you think about education reform

Cover of "Teacher Man: A Memoir"

Cover of Teacher Man: A Memoir

I’ve been a voracious reader throughout my life, and I was determined to not let this habit die during my time as a teacher. While the thought of reading “for fun” may seem like a chore, (or, let’s admit it, a nearly impossible task when thinking about your ever-growing to do list) engaging in education literature can present an opportunity to reflect, learn more about the world outside your classroom, and provide some laughs as well. 

Summer is just around the corner, and as you set about your vacation plans, be sure to pack one of these books as well:

If you’re the literary type: Teacher Man: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt is probably better known for his best-selling book on the Irish immigrant experience, but Teacher Man details the joyful and tearful moments from his thirty-year career as a teacher at NYC’s Stuyvesant High School. While it has been decades since McCourt taught, his vivid and self-deprecating stories of managing rowdy teenagers and confronting school administrators will resonate deeply with teachers of all stripes.

If you’re a historian: Left Back by Diane Ravitch

For those of you who wonder about the roots and foundations of our contemporary education reform battles, this book is a must read. In Left Back, Diane Ravitch lays out the history of education in the 20th century and the embattled shifts in policy and practice that has defined our modern system of American public education. No matter your politics, this book serves as critical background for the modern-day debates over “newfangled” ideas such as the Common Core and charter schools for all us working in the education sector.

Practical Tips For Institute

Sleep mask

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year, thousands of corps members prepare to pack their bags and ship off to various summer Institutes across the country. As you begin to prepare for this intense experience, you’ve probably already started picking the brains of friends and colleagues who have undergone this experience. These practical tips number many, but here are a few other things to keep in mind to make the most out of your Institute experience.

1) Pack a pair of earplugs and an eye mask. Regardless of whether or not you are a heavy or light sleeper, there will undoubtedly be many distractions that could prevent you from achieving your precious few hours of beauty sleep. Earplugs and an eye mask can help you remain rested throughout your six weeks, and help you get the sleep that you need, even when your roommate is up working late into the night with the lights on, or your neighboring CMs are discussing lesson planning in the hallway right outside your door. Trust me on this.

It’s the Little Things: 5 Classroom Perks

Pencil Fun 1

(Photo credit: alandd)

I know the feeling. You are approaching spring of your second year of teaching, and contemplating your next steps. Do you stay for a third year? Do you move a different school? A new city? Do you want to stay in education? Pursue a new path entirely? And even if your mind is made up about leaving the classroom, are you sure your heart’s on the same page?

Many corps members know that they will miss their schools or their kids if they decide to leave the classroom, but here are a few things that I didn’t anticipate missing about teaching:

1) The freedom of running my own classroom. While my classroom was always bustling with a menagerie of visits from administrators, district officials and TFA staff, I still had the freedom and autonomy to run my own universe – my classroom. Within the bounds of my four walls, I had the flexibility to design my own workstreams (“What am I teaching today? How will I teach it?”), control my work schedule (“Lesson planning after dinner”), and even control my physical space (“What do I want my workspace to look and feel like?”). I was able to develop my managerial skills through leading my own “team” of students and my classroom aide. In my new role, as is the case with most folks who have desk jobs, these opportunities to have complete autonomy are few and far in between.

2) Ability to have a realistic pulse on the education world. There are many, many individuals who work in the education sector, yet there is no role more important or “close to the ground” as that of a teacher. Teachers have a sense of what things are really like in schools today, and as a classroom teacher, you can speak authentically about the joys and challenges of students today.

3) Opportunity to continuously iterate on your practice. As a teacher, you have the incredible opportunity to continuously “tinker” with your craft, and use your classroom as a mini-education science lab. If little Johnny doesn’t understand your math lesson, you reflect, regroup, and try again until you are successful. Many other roles don’t allow for this space to iterate and improve upon your craft – embrace it.

4) Teacher supplies. There is nothing more refreshing than gearing up for the brand new school year with fresh school supplies. I always loved walking up and down the aisles of Office Depot perusing the colorful displays and “Back 2 School” sales. I even stocked up on Scholastic and other catalogs and pour over the pages. New pencils and notebooks represented not only the start of school, but also a new beginning. Most other jobs don’t give you a yearly reset button, let alone one with accompanying sales.

5) Teacher discounts. Because teachers need to look good, too. My teacher ID helped to alleviate the stress on my wallet many times. Here’s a great list to start.

No matter what your deciding factors are, you’ll find a solution that makes the most sense to you. At the very least, having a clearer understanding of how your life may change when the school year ends can perhaps allow you to enjoy the little things that make the teaching experience so unique.

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