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8 Things You Need to Know About Institute
This summer new corps members will pack their bags and head off to institute—an intensive training program where you’ll dedicate at least five weeks to learning the fundamentals of lesson planning and building a productive learning environment. You’ll get hands-on experience teaching a summer school class and learn how to build relationships with your students.
Your days at institute will be full—you’ll attend training sessions and teach summer school in the morning, attend additional training in the afternoon, and spend evenings preparing for the next day. Throughout institute, you’ll work alongside other corps members and TFA staff in small teaching groups and receive ongoing feedback to put what you’ve learned into practice.
Every corps member and alum can attest that institute is one of the most rigorous experiences they’ve gone through—but it pays off. It’s a profound experience that ties you to all other corps members, past and present, and will no doubt leave you feeling deeply connected to our larger TFA community. No matter which institute you attend, one thing is certain—this is a one-of-a-kind experience. You’ll form intense bonds and lifelong relationships with your fellow corps members. You may even meet your soulmate.
While institute is a defining moment in your journey as a corps member, it’s easy to get lost in the details and terminology. Below you’ll find answers to eight commonly asked questions.
1. What is the difference between “institute” and “summer training”?
Institute and “summer training” or “summer institute” are often used interchangeably. In most cases they all refer to the same thing—a rigorous training program that takes place over several weeks during the summer.
In most regions, summer training refers to all the learning activities that take place over the summer, including the events that happen before and after institute. Many regions host an “induction” or welcoming ceremony for new corps members, usually held in your region the week prior to institute. If you attend a national institute outside of your region (more on that below), you will likely return to your region for “orientation” after institute wraps up. Orientation usually lasts 1-2 weeks and is a time to start planning for your first few weeks of school alongside other corps members and your regional teacher coaches (also known as “MTLDs.”) While a few regions may have their own variation on what they call “institute,” your training experience will likely be pretty similar wherever you go.
No matter what terminology is used, all of the learning and development activities that take place over the summer will prepare you with a strong foundation for leading a classroom as well as context for the community where you will teach.
2. What’s the difference between a national institute and a regional institute?
Depending on your regional assignment, you may attend a national institute or a regional institute. This year four national institutes will be held in Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, and Tulsa, with 14 regional institutes held across the country. National institutes tend to be larger in size because they combine corps members from several nearby regions.
Regional institutes typically take place in the same region where you are assigned to teach in the fall. Some regional institutes combine corps members from multiple regions that are all located within the same state. Other regional institutes may combine corps members who are assigned to teach in regions that serve geographically similar communities, such as the rural South.
These institutes are led by regional teacher support staff and veteran teachers who are still in the region. Regional institutes may offer training that is tailored for the specific local context where you’ll be teaching.
While each institute has its own distinct character, national and regional institutes follow the same basic training program. No matter which institute you attend, you will leave with the same foundational skills, experiences, and relationships that will help you be successful as a corps member.
3. Where do I find out which institute I’m attending?
This year 18 different regional and national institutes will take place across the country, staggered at different times throughout the summer in order to accommodate all corps members. If you are joining a region that does not host its own regional institute, then you will attend a national institute that combines corps members from multiple regions that are geographically similar.
Information about your institute assignment is usually available on TFA.org in the early spring. You will also receive an email with information about your specific institute assignment in the early spring as well.
5. What actually happens at institute?
During institute, you’ll develop the foundations, skills, and mindsets needed to be an effective beginning teacher. You’ll spend the first week of institute diving into the fundamentals of lesson planning and establishing a productive learning environment for students. During your second week of institute, you’ll get hands-on teaching practice by co-teaching a summer school class with oversight from a veteran teacher. Throughout the rest of institute, your daily routine will include teaching, attending training sessions, and planning for the next day. You’ll also receive ongoing coaching and observation from veteran teachers.
As you’ve likely heard from former corps members, your days at institute will be very full. Good time-management is essential, and will help you maintain balance and avoid working into the wee hours of the morning. You’ll also have some downtime on the weekends to bond with your fellow corps members and explore your institute city.
It’s completely normal to feel a bit daunted by what lies ahead, but you are not alone. There is tons of advice out there from corps members who have been through the experience, including tips on self-care, staying organized, and how to embrace the 20-minute power nap.
6. Where will I live? Who will feed me? Do I have to pay for those things?
Corps members don’t get paid for their summer training. However, Teach For America does cover your housing and food costs during training. In most cases, special accommodations are available for corps members with partners and families.
Since corps members will spend much of their time at institute teaching a summer school class, transportation to and from the school where you’ll teach is also included. All of these accommodations will help you focus your time on preparing your lessons and getting the most out of your training.
7. Will I teach the same thing at institute as what I’ll be teaching in the fall?
What you teach over the summer will depend on your region and which institute you are attending. Corps members often don’t yet know what grade or subject they will be teaching in the fall, and still need to go through the hiring process at their placement school at the time they attend institute. However, some regions have state regulations mandating that corps members teach the same grade and subject over the summer that they will in the fall.
Understandably, this ambiguity can feel discouraging at first. No matter what you teach during institute, you’ll still build a wealth of knowledge and experiences to draw upon when you return to your region the fall.
“One thing I wish I understood while at institute is that the biggest unknown variable transitioning into the fall is not how to teach your content—you’ll figure that out—but who your students will be,” said Destinee Hodge (D.C. Region ‘11). “It behooves you to focus on figuring out what it takes to effectively build relationships during institute."
8. Is institute going to prepare me to teach in the fall?
Institute is not intended to be a comprehensive training that covers everything you will need to know in order to be an effective teacher. But you will leave institute with a strong foundation of skills and experiences that you’ll continue to build upon throughout your time as a corps member. This includes building on skills that you already have: Corps members are carefully chosen because they have proved themselves as leaders and have the traits and personality to lead students to success in the classroom.
Institute is just the beginning of your continuous learning and development as a corps member. This also includes work toward earning your teaching certification (and sometimes a master’s degree), as well as ongoing coaching and professional development. For many corps members, their experience at institute ends up being a huge confidence-builder as you learn how to quickly navigate new situations and acclimate to your classroom in the fall.
Still curious about life at institute? Follow six corps members as they share video diaries from their time at Teach For America's Houston institute.