Below is a letter to the eager, enthusiastic, and ambitious person I was before I started the UTAP program at Penn GSE. 

            You have so many questions. You are wondering if this school, city, and step is the right choice. You want to jump in now and you spend your hours in June dreaming of what your life as a graduate student will be like (you should have spent more time resting). My only advice for you is to rest while you can and dive in fully-- everything will work out.

In your search for the perfect teacher education program you were trying so hard to find the most experience or practice-centered curriculum -- well you got it! Starting in week 2 you were thrown into the field and got to spend time working with students. The summer weeks at a camp in South Philly supporting young refugees was a great introduction into the “all hands in” technique that seems integral to Philadelphia. When the school year started you were welcomed by an amazing staff, mentor teacher, and incredible students. Between lesson planning, homework, and grading you will spend your time tutoring students after school or at high school basketball games. You are getting more practice than you could even imagine, and your school will quickly be a part of your Philly family. Your worries about not being ready for your own classroom after a year are quickly quieted-- this program is the balance between the practice and theory that you were seeking.

Past alumni and the program directors warned you of the long days and rightly so-- the days are very long. However, they forgot to mention the incredible support that the UTAP cohort model provides. Your peers quickly become your best friends-- they are the reason you can get through the long hours and late classes. In between classes and on the weekends,  you get to spend time with the 30+ people who understand the joy that is working with adolescents and the complex position of being a “student teacher.” You will learn a lot in the GSE classrooms but I would go out on a limb and say that you will learn even more from conversing with your peers who are out in the classrooms everyday.

You have always been loyal to New York City so you were once worried that Philadelphia would not be ‘for you.’ Luckily Philly, with its grit and all, is your new-found love. There is so much to do and so much to see. You will keep an ever-growing list of restaurants and sights on your phone so you are never bored. You will master the Penn shuttle system and SEPTA soon enough and slowly Philly will feel like a second home.

They say ‘time flies when you are having fun’ and even though you are tired (really tired) you will find the fun in it all. Teaching and supporting students may engulf most of your free time but you will love every moment of it. Do not spend time sweating the small stuff and take time to reflect because the 10 months will feel like it is in fast-forward mode as soon as you start in July.  Enjoy it.

-       Michelle