A 1200-word summation of my time in Mississippi. Oh my goodness. I know I will inevitably finish this response, read it over, and then want to delete it, but like all other blogs, the post must go on! And be turned in by 8am!
Ok. I feel it’s most appropriate to, as some others have done, divide this response similar to how MTC divides this two-year experience. Let’s begin.
The First Summer:
“One reason I chose to move to Mississippi was to push myself out of my comfort zone.”- blog post, June 2009
My memories of my first summer are scattered: getting lost with my dad on the Ole Miss campus, quietly observing everyone on the first day of class, thinking that the new people around me were not going to be able to take the places of my old friends, being awkward at the cookout and hesitant to talk to the North Panola people…
The things I remember well, however, include how kind Michele was to me that first summer. She patiently sat through my rehearsal of almost every lesson I taught and spent hours running through and giving me feedback on all the materials I made. Michele, you were my early dose of southern hospitality and gave me some much-needed confidence from the start. You far exceeded your role as a second year teacher that summer. Thank you.
And Anna, I still remember you pushing me to give a warning to my small group of eight perfect angels, and how proud of me you were when I finally did. You were right, they were nothing compared to what I was about to walk into in the fall, but I couldn’t imagine how much more trying my first year would have been if you hadn’t pushed me to give a warning.
I also remember being too “busy” to play volleyball, but secretly being too shy to get out and play with people I didn’t know. I remember my first date with Patrick at Pizza Den, and I remember being excited to live in a house that had a silo in the front yard. I remember how Annah and I both went shopping and wound up with the same cart full of groceries, and I remember Mr. Ball walking me and a small group of soon-to-be very special people around an old high school that would end up being very special to me.
The First Year
“Man, this class is crunk when Ms. Levine in a good mood. When she in a bad mood it over."- overheard in Ms. Levine’s room, blog post, October 2009
My feet and throat hurt really badly on the first day. It went alright, though. I still remember that day very clearly, but then I don’t remember anything until after the honeymoon was over.
So flash forward a few weeks and the honeymoon period is over.
I’m overwhelmed. Constantly. Stress, frustration, sadness, amazement…an illogical mess that was supposed to be a school. My most vivid memories from my first year are just those of me being overcome with emotion.
I made a habit of writing down things that happened to me, not to include them in blogs or even to share with anyone, but because writing things down became one of the only things that was therapeutic enough to calm me down.
Sometimes I wrote things that made me laugh and that I wanted to remember, but most of the time I found myself writing down the things that enraged me to where I couldn’t express my thoughts in any other rational way.
The following is a mix of quotes and experiences from my first year that I’ve found saved in random documents on my computer. Considering my first year, it only makes sense to say that some of these may not make sense.
- “Well from the look of these surveys everyone seems to think the hallway is a big issue. So don’t let them go anywhere. Why are they in Coach’s office? They are not learning anything in there. They are not gaining anything educational. Give them something to work on.”
- And he was like "You must not know me, I don't do what I don't want and you can't make me and you can't talk to me like that."
- “Ms. Levine, how come Kearon get an A, and I get a dot?” “A stands for absent, Gelisha”
- Class-wide writing assignment after sending two boys out immediately after the class returns from lunch. Decide to stop the class and "practice" going to and from the dining hall. Got back, made them keep copying. They hated me. Five minutes left of class, the room was silent. They were right where I wanted them. Until my inclusion teacher SCREAMED. A mouse had run into my room, and NO ONE SAW IT EXCEPT THE INCLUSION TEACHER. In an instant kids were on their desks and screaming. Later, I see the mouse peep out from the bookcase in the back of the room. Being the only one to see it, I made sure as not to bring notice to it. William is sleeping in the back. I let him sleep now, and just give him a zero everyday. I look back a minute later. The mouse is crawling on his foot. No one else has any idea.
- Fight after school: parent of the student in the fight. "At least you got his fuckin’ ass."
- A good student (smart, always respectful, acts with integrity) is visibly upset about something. She tells me her sister is being threatened and she’s scared she is going to get beat up…girl is upset, I tell her if she wants to go tell the administration about it that I’ll go with her. She doesn’t want to. I try to convince her to change her mind. She changes her mind; we walk to the office trying to find an administrator…admin laughs when he finds out who the bully is. Claims, “She won’t do anything, she’s all talk, it’s fine." Doesn’t help anything. Girl is more upset; not reassured, clearly feels stupid for coming to talk to someone….I get upset at him.
A couple weeks later we have bullying training because we “can not allow that in our school.”
I left my first year absolutely disgusted with everything education. I felt my students went to a pathetic excuse for a school and were tattooed with bad reputations that were the fault of anyone BUT the students. I understood the teacher shortage in Mississippi: absolute apathy on the part of the teachers and community along with ridiculous behavioral issues within the school made the environment anything but conducive to learning and no one in their right mind would voluntarily deal with what I was dealing with.
My ninth graders had aged out of sixth grade and were put in high school as more or less of a dumping ground. I had a large group of special-ed kids that were babied, given the answers, and allowed to act however they wanted. I still can’t help but feel that many of those students are only being held back by their services and still find it quite sickening. My vice principal told me halfway through the year that he was surprised I hadn’t quit yet.
I pride myself in finishing my first year and returning, but in hindsight I don’t feel I had the choice. I knew, returning, I would be a better teacher than I already was and felt I owed it to the students that deserved a teacher who wanted to teach. So I come to…
The Second Summer:
I've spoken in past posts how I ended the year with a sort of cynicism I didn't have coming into it; I've been disgusted with almost all facets of public education and have felt beat down and defeated by it throughout the year. I feel like it's an answer-less problem and the more I learn the more I am frustrated by the depth and complexity of the issue. –blog post, June 2010
It started with a conference in Atlanta and talk of some project. Then I was back to summer school, but in a new building. I vowed to be a good second year. I worked hard on my lessons and focused on modeling rather than getting the evaluation grade. I gave my first year’s resources and spent time on their evaluations. Photo club was a mess, partly because we had thirty kids with four cameras, partly because no one’s schedules were aligned, partly because we didn’t all plan together.
My response on my second summer will be as short as the summer was.
The Second Year:
Teaching changes you; it changes your daily mentality, it changes the way you view yourself, others, culture, society, your friends, your relationships…so I would advise you not to join unless you’re prepared for a bit of change, regardless of where you’re from or what you’ve seen. –blog post, March 2011
“It will be so much easier than your first.” – says everyone. In some ways it has. The actual teaching and planning part was easier, yes. I became more efficient with my time and was confident and organized in the classroom. My students saw me as a strict teacher who worked them hard but gave them the information they needed to know, which is what I wanted. The principal came in strong. Stuff was more or less organized. Things started out well.
Flash-forward a couple weeks and we’re without a principal for reasons unknown. All we hear are rumors from the students. School slowly starts to fall apart.
Flash-forward a couple weeks and I'm told to divide my intervention into three groups and teach three lessons at one time every day. All in a class where I can't grade them.
Flash-forward a couple weeks and I'm getting yelled at for intervention not working.
Flash-forward a couple more weeks and the district drops co-teachers off into our classrooms. Just drops 'em off. Doesn't tell us they're coming.
Flash-forward a couple more weeks and I'm being criticized for not using my co-teacher well enough.
Flash-forward a couple more weeks and I’ve been yelled at for low test scores after my classes scores higher than all the others.
Flash-forward a couple more weeks and I am absolutely beat down. Not by my students, but by the school.
I’m just thankful this was my second year and not my first.
I’d say if one word were to describe this year it would irrational. Nothing that has happened has made sense, and it has not been an improvement from last year. If anything, this year I’ve learned how to open my mouth when I need to and shut it when I don’t. I’ve learned the value of professionalism and grown confident in my ability to make adult decisions.
One thing that’s gotten me this year is the monotony, which has just drained me. It’s not that teaching is ever boring, but my days have developed an exhausting predictability in every aspect of a workday that you don’t want to be predictable. I know which students are going to fight me, I know the day will somehow be unorganized, and I know how my administration will act when I bring something to them.
I really don’t want to leave my students, but I think the only reason pulling me back another year is that I feel too guilty to leave, and I don’t think this is a good reason to stay anywhere.
That being said, I feel I’ve had a very successful year. My kids on my SEF project have far exceeded my expectations and my English scores are better than any other teachers. I know and enjoy each of my students, and I’ve been very successful in running the school’s Interact Club. I don’t think I’m going back to my school next year, but it’s not because of a lot of the issues I’ve touched on, but rather I feel I can professionally develop myself better elsewhere.
I wish I were a good enough writer to adequately express what teacher corps has meant to me, but I know I’m not. I know I sound like I’m dwelling a lot on the negatives through my experience, but the reason I can’t look past them is because my students show me daily that they deserve more than what they’re given.
When I reflect back on my two years, I think of the laughs and the smiles and the “aha” moments where a kid finally understood something they had been struggling with. I remember Tiffany, who interrupted my 5th period class to hug me after she found out she passed her state test, and I remember Shelby telling me how much our annotative bibliography unit helped her in 12th grade English.
My district is all-too-often characterized by the negatives, but what I’ve come to see about North Panola is that it is apart of a small community that cares about each other and sees the potential in the school.
Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m in Mississippi. At this point, I don’t really remember who I was before I came down here; I can’t remember myself before this experience because it so drastically transformed me.
I’ve having trouble ending this, so I think I’ll pull a quote from an old blog.
On “Why Someone Should Join Teacher Corps”
You can help: I have a lot of students that are in 9th grade and can't read. I have students that go home and don't have electricity and I have students who would rather drop out of school than sit in my class and learn English. They're not stupid, but they're not educated. Through no fault of their own these kids have not been given a fair opportunity. They have grown up in a world of black and white in a place that in some ways is decades behind the rest of this country. Unless someone comes into their lives that cares about them, that knows they can achieve at levels they haven't in the past, that can teach through disrespect because they know respect is earned, unless someone can do this for them these kids will only perpetuate the cycle that brings so many of our students down. It doesn't have to be like it is, and us being there for them is a step in the right direction. You won't always want to be there, but you know that coming into this program; so you should join MTC to be one of the ones that sticks with it.
Thank you, Mississippi.