My Mississippi Teacher Corps experience in 1200 words or more.
To fully grasp my Mississippi Teacher Corps experience, we actually have to go back to before I actually enrolled in the program. Let’s start in May or June of 2009. I was working at a prep school in the D.C. area doing academic fundraising. I was thoroughly enjoying working in a school, and was growing more and more curious about the various careers academia offered. I knew that I would almost certainly need a graduate degree if I wanted to continue on, but I also knew that teaching experience would never hurt. That’s when I began researching various alternate-route teaching programs, particularly ones that would send me to the deep south. I had a friend who had done an alternate-route program, so he and I got dinner at Jason’s Deli one night, and I picked his brain about his experience with this program called Mississippi Teacher Corps. This conversation began my interest, which continued on for another month or so, and while visiting with my dad, he suggested that I should go and visit the program if this was something I was serious about applying for. Consequently, a month or two later I flew down to Birmingham, then he and I drove from Birmingham to Jackson to meet with this guy, then to Greenwood to meet this guy, then to Oxford to meet with this gentleman. When I returned from my trip, I was convinced that this was something I wanted to apply for. It was stressed to me that Mississippi Teacher Corps was a very difficult program, and that much of it would be very taxing, but I had hope and knew I had nothing to lose for applying. A couple rounds passed and in November I found out that I had been accepted to the class of 2010 (MTC designates classes by year entered).
Fast forward to June. I left my job, my church, my close friends, and the love of my life in D.C. and moved to Oxford for summer school. I entered a classroom on the morning of June 1, 2010 on the second floor of the Student Union at the University of Mississippi and was introduced to the rest of my classmates. One by one, individuals stood up and introduced themselves. This would be the first of what would be many introductions (our name, where we were from, where we went to school, where we were placed, and what we would be teaching). A few days later, we would begin our time as summer school teachers. Our summer school was the training grounds for the normal school year and I was teaching Algebra 1 with Ms. Jones and several second year teachers. The annoying second year teachers kept telling us how summer school was so much easier than real school, but I really couldn’t believe how that was possible. I felt like I was spinning my wheels in the classroom, but at that point, I really didn’t know what I was doing at all. Much of the first summer is a blur to me now, buried in the rubble that was my first year of teaching.
In August I moved to Indianola, Mississippi, smack dab in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. One other participant from my class was working at the same school, so he and I and a second year teacher all decided to live together. This would end up being one of the best decisions made in the program. Once settled in our house, I went to the school to see my classroom and meet as many people as I could. I expressed interest in potentially helping coach football to the Assistant Principal/Athletic Director, which led me to meeting two of the football coaches, which led me to getting duped into coaching quarterbacks. Shortly thereafter, classes began and I started working with two sections of Trigonometry/Pre-calculus and four sections of Geometry. Up until this point, I had wondered what it was like to be narcoleptic, now with teaching and coaching on hand, I had a better understanding. I could fall asleep anywhere, at any time. It was like a magic trick. I taught, coached football, proposed to the love of my life, and looked forward to May.
The fall led to winter - a cold, snowy winter. Cold, snowy seasons don’t agree with Mississippi schools very well, so we had some snow days. I think I only ended up having one five-day week during the third quarter of that year. It was a real gift. The winter then led to spring and the pace of school picked up. By this point, a routine was established within my classes and we were basically on cruise control after Spring Break up through graduation. I said good-bye to my seniors, told my sophomores I would see them next year, and I cleaned up my classroom.
After a brief trip to the beach, I reported back to Oxford for summer school. With the new summer came a new crop of first year teachers; now I was the “experienced” one in the classroom. Summer part deux was the first time that I really noticed my progression as a teacher. Remembering the difficulties from the summer before, I was amazed at how easy teaching summer school had become. The class was full, around 30 students in all, but still, things were a breeze. I finally got to enjoy playing volleyball, golf, and Oxford in general.
Summer school was much more brief, lasting only through June for the second year teachers, so July was finally mine all mine. I left Oxford, went to the mountains of North Carolina, got married, took a honeymoon, then came back to the states to find out that I in fact was to be back in Indianola two weeks before originally scheduled for professional development. One of the things you learn from working at a school is how to be flexible and roll with changes in schedules. We literally turned our car around and drove back to Mississippi and began the second year.
I decided not to return as a football coach (another one of the best decisions I made), and chose to only be Mr. not Coach. Teaching only seniors, I had a lot of names and faces to learn, but I also enjoyed knowing a good portion of the my former students who were now juniors. With completely new administrators, classes began in August, and it did not take long for the fireworks to start among the students. I think I will always remember that fall for its violence. It seemed like everyone was fighting at one time or another. I remember one week where there was at least one fight 4 out of the 5 days. We pressed on with our work, established procedures in class, and kept December, then May in sight.
Nature happened, things cooled off, and a welcome winter set in on the Delta. I’ve found it amazing how in tuned with the weather our student’s behavior is. With the cooler season came cooler tempers and a more relaxed campus. Tardies were not as much of an issue, nor was skipping, and for the most part, learning progressed nicely. The winter again led to the spring as it always does, and brings us to today, a rainy day in April. We still have state tests to take, along with a few weeks before graduation, but school has, in a way, already ended for the year. The seniors have been checked out, and so much focus now goes to the testing that our regular schedule has been modified to cram for the tests.
My Mississippi Teacher Corps experience has been an education in education. I’ve learned a lot about teaching math and a lot about what makes a school work (or not work). The experience has been rewarding, frustrating, heartbreaking, confusing, invigorating, and exhausting. Now, nearly two years since my arrival to Oxford, I’m grateful for my time and for the opportunity. The experience has been wild, far more so than can be expressed with a blog post, and the experience has been worth it.