I don’t know what to say about my MTC experience that I can fit into a blog post .Yet, given such a task that is what I have set out to do. How can I synthesize this two-year world-wind experience into a 1200 words? I have changed professionally, socially, emotionally, etc. I am just different! I’m not the same woman I was during the first road trip from Amherst, to Brooklyn, to Oxford with Martin DVDs stuffed through the windows of my car.
On that first journey over the Mason Dixon, my mind was fixed not on the daunting task of imparting knowledge to underserved, ill-prepared students, but rather on sheer fear of the American South. The only time I have ever used those two words, “American” and “South,” in a sentence they were always sandwiching other words like, “slave” and “Jim Crow.” Yet, here I was making this place my home for the next two year. Oxford played right into my fears; with the confederate flags emblazoned on everything from license plate holders, baseball caps, and tee shirts. The vestiges of the history I was taught to fear seemed to be everywhere. Little did I know that my place in Mississippi would be overwhelmingly black. I spend everyday in a school of roughly 1600 students with 5 interspersed white faces. More surprisingly, my refuges would be overwhelmingly white. I found a home in the ALL white Leland United Methodist Church. These church members made a place for me in a community I felt so distant from.
My first year is mostly a blur. I wish I had done a better job of keeping a diary. One thing I do remember is the first time I closed the door in my own classroom. I can still feel the burn of 31 sets of eyes on the back of my neck and saying to myself, “here we go.” And it went. With firm grasp on the strict Mississippi Teacher Corp-style lesson plan, I set out everyday to engage my students and have fun in the classroom. And I was largely successful. My classes that first semester were to capacity: 31, 35, and 33. Yet, I had so much fun with that first batch of kids. Insert cheerleading to kill my joy. I had agreed to be the assistant coach of the cheerleading team to find an in into the community and do something outside of the classroom that related to my own interests. But within months the head cheerleading coach had been run from the team and there I was: new, foreign, small- bodied (as my mom puts out), and a touch nervous. Most of my first year drama came from cheerleading!! But some how, some way I gained their trust and fund raised my tail of and after $14000 dollar and many tear I finally felt like I belonged. Then, insert state testing to kill my joy.
Second Summer/ Year:
Revelation 1: Come in everyday ready to have a good day and once in a while you will surprise yourself by having one.
Revelation 2: No one can steal your joy unless you let them.
Revelation 3 (The most important): You are never more than four school days away from Friday. (Thank you, Jesus)
While things finally started to gel and set in my classroom, hell was breaking lose in the rest of the school building. With three principals in three years, you finally think you have hit rock bottom and are on the road to a rebound until some one opens the trap door and your realize that the basement has a cellar. Although this has not made my second year the cake walk I hoped it would be, it has finally cemented for me that the problem in my school is not the kids (well, at least not most of them), but unfathomable absence of leadership and competence and the overwhelming greed and selfishness among those entrusted with the most precious asset in the community, student’s education.
The following are excerpts from and reflections on diary entries over the last year.
In school today, I had to put Shawniqua out of my room. Shawniqua is a mother in the 10th grade. She lives in a home for girls, and I put her out of my room. She just would not shut up and do her work.
In the time since I wrote this diary entry, Shawniqua failed my Health Care Science class with a 13 in the last term. She still lives in the group home. I found out she had her baby in elementary school. However, now, she is the ONLY student in all of my Biology I sections with an A. When asked what made her make the change, she simply said, “I made a New Years resolution.” Shawniqa is undoubtedly one of my best students.
Cheerleading practice was awesome! So, I may or may not have gone off on them a little bit yesterday. But, boy did it pay off. Jyra stepped in for JaMiya, and is making it happen! That’s not all! We finally got the big stunt. I can’t believe it. We might actually make it to competition.
Not only did we go to competition we came in fourth in the state from ninth place the last time my girls went in 2009. The team that forced my mom to endure countless teary phone calls in my first year has finally become a source of great joy and pleasant memories. I am only tempted to stay a third year to see my senior-heavy team hopefully win state and graduate.
Thankfully, I made it to thanksgiving. Thank God. Today was the last day of school before the break. It was a very quiet day and I finished all of my grading. No grading for thanksgiving. I am going to relax, but also be productive. I need to work on my MTC projects and study for the MCAT. Yet, I refuse not to relax. I am going to read these books I’ve started and put down. I am going to call my friends. I’m going to go out and sit down and be around people.
While I am not sure I accomplished all or anything of things I set out to do on this break, it speaks to the isolation of this experience. So much about what made these two years so challenging was the fact the experience is so all consuming. Many of times I felt like all I do is schoolwork and if something goes badly in the schoolhouse my day and maybe even my week is toast. Luckily, in my second year I have made a concerted effort with thanks of people close to my heart to stop making everything I do revolve around Greenville-Weston High School.
Lastly, from my portfolio on my professional growth:
When I started this journey two year ago sitting in my college dorm room at Amherst having decided to join MTC, my concerns were completely self-centered. Am I going to find my way? Am I really going to spend two years in Mississippi? But after letting the decision sink in and after the introductory meeting with my teacher corps cohort, it finally sunk in how daunting this undertaking would be. The prospect of being entrusted with someone else’ s education hit me like a ton of bricks. I started to feel the weight of this responsibility on my shoulders. Yet, I have never been a person to shy away from a challenge. So, with this responsibility, this privilege always at the forefront of my mind, I embarked on this journey and have learned many lessons along the way. My professional growth over the last two years has been accompanied but much personal growth. The lessoned learned in the classroom that have made me a better teacher have translated into many areas of my life making me a more critical thinker, responsible adult, social person. Three basic principles helped my growth.
Fearlessness: When I moved to Greenville, I knew it would be hard to gain entrance into the community. So, I wanted to find an in. Luckily, at the new teacher orientation, the athletic director asked for volunteers for the assistant coaching position for the varsity cheer team at the high school. I knew this was it. I had cheered and danced all through school; however, I feared the time commitment and was uncertain of my qualifications. But I took the leap. With in two months, the head coach quit and I was thrust into the role of head coach. It took a lot, a lot of patience and hard work, but two-year later my team is ranked number 4 in the state and last summer we raised $14,000. Working with these girls I have learned more about being a leader and role model than ever before. I gained the trust of the girls and their parents, became a disciplinarian, and built a team. They helped bring me out of my shell and offered me an avenue into the community. This initial success as a coach, translated into more confidence and self-assuredness in and out of the classroom.
Flexibility: I left my first summer in MTC with some practical skills that I knew I could use in the classroom, but when I transitioned to my own classroom I continued to fall on the crutch of direct instruction. Direction instruction is predictable and guaranteed less behavior flare-ups and conveyance of all the material. Yet, direct instruction created distance between the students and the material because they had no opportunity for interaction or discovery. And rest assured that the students continued to remind me that direct instruction was insufficient as they slept in my classroom. So, I became flexible. I found a system of forms and sheets that made me feel comfortable and in control while allowing my students to find their own way through the material using what resources we had available. This challenge to move away from direct instruction forced me to imagine myself as one of my students and predict how they would respond to a question or reason through an assignment. This thought experiment helped me as a thinker and as a student because truly learning how to teach (not just give notes) taught me how I learn.
Self-Assuredness: I started my first semester at Greenville-Weston High School conflicted. I just spent the whole summer learning how to impersonate a teacher, but I didn’t feel like a teacher, yet. So, I just continued with the impersonation. I was wearing the clothes I thought were appropriate, I was trying to discipline the way I thought a teacher was supposed to. But doing all of this, I was wrapped up in gaining my students respect by conforming to what I perceived to be the role of a teacher. I didn’t feel like myself. So, I started over. I started dressing they I wanted to dress, adventurously; acting the way I wanted to act, like a goof; and it worked for me. My authority was not questioned not because of how I dressed but because my students know that I know my material.