Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Last Post

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.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Former Students

You never really know how your work in the classroom will affect your life outside in the community. Consequently, there is a certain amount of diplomacy involved with teaching. I’m proud that I can’t think of a single student that I would not want to run into outside of school, and that I don’t really harbor any guilt from any of the students I have taught.

We had a funny little reminder of this last Saturday night. My bride and I had just played taxi to a fellow participant’s students, and on our way back, decided to meet some friends for pizza. The restaurant we went to is an eclectic and vibrant spot that serves fairly gourmet pizza (especially for the Delta). One of my former students works at this place. Though we had our occasional issue last year, we have remained friends since his time in my classroom. He went off to a community college for a bit, but shortly returned home citing “boredom” as his reason for returning. He now works as at this place and is taking classes at the local community college.

We’ve joked from time to time about his ability to serve me beer at the restaurant, but we’ve never actually acted out situation. When we went to the pizzeria on Saturday, it was a fairly busy night and we were in a larger group of people. I waited in line, put in my order (without any beer), and grabbed my table number like any other customer in line. We found a table and conversed for a while, not anticipating anything out of the ordinary at all. After about 15 minutes, the first party in our group received their pizza. After about 18, the second came. I ordered last, so I didn’t think anything of it, and we continued to wait patiently. 25 minutes came, we were still pizza-less. “Please go ahead and eat” we said to the other members of our party. They were the picture of an etiquette stalwart, and refused to touch their steamy pies without ours in place. And we waited, and waited. We started noticing others who had ordered after us receive their pizza. Then we noticed people who arrived after we sat down began receiving their pizza. I hated to believe it, but the writing was on the wall - they had lost our order. This was a tricky situation, again because my former student and friend was the point person for this. Do I demand a refund? Do we wait longer? Again, he’s a friend so it was a somewhat tricky situation. I approached him, asked if he could check on our order, he did so quickly, then came back with an embarrassed look on his face.

“What was your order?”, he asked, I told him, then he went back to the kitchen in a hurry, barking orders and hurriedly shuffling pizzas around. I knew he had a lot going on, so I didn’t want to push the issue at all and returned back to my table. About 10 minutes later, my former student rushed to our table with our pizza. It was bigger than the size we ordered, a nice gesture I appreciated. I figured that was the end of it, thanked him for his help, and began devouring. About ten minutes later, our dinner was interrupted again by an enormous desert pizza, and the beer we had been joking about for the past year. Again, not part of our order, just a nice gesture from a former student, now friend.

I’ll never fully know the impact I’ve had on this guy, or really on of my students. This was, if nothing else, a fun reminder of the relationships that can and do blossom from my time as a teacher.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A day in the life of

All of last year, I had a constant hope that the second year of teaching would be a smoother one than the first. I was told time and time again by people more experienced than I that the second year was so much better, and I am happily living proof to agree with them (to a certain degree). Don't get me wrong, the school inherently has flaws that make every week difficult, but maybe the time here has numbed me so much from things that initially shocked me, that I have stopped caring. Eventually blisters turn into callouses I guess. In a way of demonstrating the difference between last year and this year, I thought I'd write another play-by-play of a day in the life of.

5:30 am - Alarm goes off, snooze button is pressed

5:40 am - Alarm goes off again, I actually get up this time

5:45 am - Bowl of cereal, scripture reading, sometimes coffee

6:05 am - I wake up my bride, she makes me lunch while I get dressed, I have an amazing wife

6:20-30 am - I give a good-bye kiss and depart for work

6:50-7:00 am - Arrive at school, clock in, prepare room, make copies for the day

7:30 am - Report to the gym to pick up my first period class - yes we have to come and get our first period class from the gym to try to curb tardies and skipping

7:42 am - 11:14 am - Stretch and mold the young minds of tomorrow

11:14 am - 12:47 pm - Recuperate from stretching and molding the young minds of tomorrow, plan next day's lesson, eat lunch

12:47 pm - 3:30 pm - Continue stretching and molding

3:35 pm - 4:30-5:00 pm - Prepare for the next day, make copies if possible, catch up on emails, do work, various things, depart for home

5:00 pm - 5:30 pm - Arrive home, debrief with beautiful wife, snack

6:00 pm - 7:00 pm - Work out

7:30 - 8:00 pm - Eat dinner, do dishes

8:00 - 9:30 - Spend time with wife, do as little as possible

9:30 - Bed (I sleep hard)

Things are less taxing than they were last year. I'm probably much more efficient than I was, but I do get concerned at times that I rest on this too much. One way or another, I am still anxiously awaiting May and the conclusion of the school year. It is bad when you start something only looking forward to the end of it, but that's another blog post in itself.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On joining MTC

Needless to say, there have been many times over the course of the past year and a half that I have thought to myself, "what have I gotten myself into?" I jokingly tell others that I envisioned moving to Mississippi, buying a truck and a boat, and enjoying small-town southern living to a soundtrack comprised of the Allman Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Obviously when I actually arrived, I found that the task awaiting me did not afford the aforementioned luxuries, and that a lot of me would be completely consumed by my work. The feelings of inadequacy, desperation, and frustration have been real in this place, maybe more real than any other time in life. Last year's fall was the hardest season I have ever lived through. I kept remembering, "at least no one is shooting at you", though at times it felt someone might try. All this said, I think I'm glad that I've taken part in MTC. It is hard to say for sure because an element of the MTC's satisfaction resides in its completion, but I know this is where I was called to be, and for all things at this moment seen, I think I know why.

Those who know me best would agree that I have always been excited about my academic institutions. I didn't study education, but quickly found that the educational world was one that fit me well. I knew that faculty experience would never be harmful to a career in education, so I began researching programs that would put me in the classroom. I didn't feel I was qualified to teach anything at that time, but knew that if I was admitted to an alternate-route program, it would be a good foot in the door. After doing some research, I remembered I had a friend who was an MTC alum from a few years before. After speaking with him, it seemed like MTC was a far better alternative to the most well known alternate-route program, Teach for America. So I applied, essentially putting all my chips in the MTC bag. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't apply for TFA as well, but the appeal of a free computer and master's degree while teaching in the exact same schools was a pretty compelling argument for MTC.

Now that I am 3/4 of the way done with the program, I can confidently say that if you are thinking of doing any kind of alternate-route program on the Mississippi Delta, MTC is the one to do. It will not be without heart and headache, as the problems of this land are so much greater than any one person (or even one town), and you have to know that you are coming down as damage control. That said, Mississippi is a wonderful and charming place in many ways, and MTC is a good conduit. It is the land that I now call home and will be until we are called elsewhere, and I'm grateful that MTC took a chance on me.

My second year has passed by much quicker. Though the students at the school are probably worse than last year, I've found that a year of experience adds a keel to even the most turbulent of days. I even find much more time to ride the dirt roads of the Delta and sneak in some Allman Brothers from time to time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Round and round

Gone are the days of the innocent child,
soft and sweet their tempers once mild

Replaced come now the bruises and scars,
symbols and hardships of deep broken hearts

Battles rage on the champion unsure,
Facebook or he said or she said the lure

The cycle roll on like the river due west,
wider and stronger, wider and stronger

Round and round we go

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Playing favorites

Hello World,

We're now well into the fall season here in Mississippi. Leaves are finally changing and we're having the occasional 30 degree morning. School has now been in long enough for me to know the personalities of most of my students, the ones who don't skip class that is. One thing I've noticed is it is hard not to develop favorites. Some students are really great to have day in and day out, while other kids are just less amiable. The interesting thing is that your favorites aren't always the ones who make the best grades, or even act right for that matter. On one hand, you'd love a classroom full of kids who come in quietly and get straight to work, but on the other hand, the occasional ornery one makes things a little more interesting. That said, it is kind of hard to pinpoint a favorite student. I have one girl who is sweet, diligent, quiet and very bright; I would call her a favorite. On the other hand, I have a student who is loud, obnoxious, foul-mouthed, and not particularly bright, and I would honestly call her a favorite as well. Both make me laugh in different scenarios and both make teaching worthwhile and interesting. Girl one, for example, has so much potential. She's very bright and has a great work ethic, so she could go on to a four-year institution and actually get out of the Delta culture that stifles so many. Girl two, on the other hand is not nearly as bright or driven. She is quick to quit on things when confused and will probably not attend any institution of higher education (if she graduates). She is funny though, in a ridiculous, I can't believe you just said that kind of way, and has found a way to curse and fight her way into my hardened teacher heart.

Students of all shapes and sizes walk in and out of my classroom. These are just two and for all the personality that they both bring, there are roughly 88 more like them under my instruction. Hate it or love it, no two days are ever the same.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Hey Team,

Quick post time. There is a neat organization called Donors Choose that is focused on helping teachers in poorer areas of the country with classroom supplies. They service all grades and subjects and you can support an array of projects through it. I have a project for a laser printer that I am trying to get funded right now and if any of you would want to donate toward it or think you might know someone who would, I would be incredibly thankful. Just click on the link below for more details. More later, hope all is well with you and yours!