According to my stats on Typepad, this will be my 170th blog post. Most of the previous 169 are MTC related, save a few from my senior year of college. Most aren’t worth reading, and in all honesty, I can’t believe I had enough words in me to write 169 posts. This last post is certainly proving to be the most difficult to write, because all of my words are gone. What do I say? How do I sum up this experience? My Mississippi Teacher Corps experience has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and as I try to flesh it out into one last post, I can’t seem to come up with sentences, only words.
Hard. Challenging. Incompetent. Poor. Low-performing. Hope. Despair. Stupid. High-performing. QDI. Conservatorship. Depressing. Painful. Unending. Redundant. Exhausting. Torturous. Inept. Useless. Underprivileged. Racism. Unfair. Division. Successful. Miserable. Poverty. Harsh. Unprofessional. Long. Amusing. Tedious. Mind-numbing. Bleak. Shocking. Overwhelming. Sacrifice. Broken. Grace. These words describe my feelings towards my administrations, my students, the communities in which I served, and myself.
My Mississippi Teacher Corps was hard, and much harder than I ever imagined it would or could be. You see, I came into my first year summer full of confidence that I could handle whatever came my way, only to be browbeaten by the end of the first week. My first summer was hard. My first semester was hard. My first year was hard. My first semester of my second year was better yet still hard, and my second semester of my second year has been the best one yet but still hard. The problems within these school districts don’t go away with time; however, we do become immune to them until reality wakes us up.
I’m not sure I ever understood how much MTC asked of its participants before becoming a first year. MTC asks for your time and your effort at a level few of us have ever known before. The class work is easy, but the task at hand, teaching dozens of low-performing students in districts that are barely considered functional, is much, much harder. MTC participants make great sacrifices, most of which are not mentioned on the website or the Wiki. We move to unfamiliar places with strangers to communities that more than likely do not value education in order to teach students whose attitudes range from indifferent to dreadful while working in conditions that hardly resemble those of a school. Who would ever sign up for this? This doesn’t sound like fun, and to be honest, most days weren’t fun. I guess the kicker to MTC, what makes it all worth it, is the lessons we learn, the difference we make to a kid or two, and the people we meet along the way, so now onward to the good stuff- the lessons, the students, and the friends I’ve made.
My experience with the Mississippi Teacher Corps taught me how to do a myriad of things that I never realized I needed (or wanted) to learn. During my MTC experience, I learned how to…
- Cook and bake- it turns out following recipes really isn’t that difficult
- Safely navigate roadblocks on two lane roads in the Delta- have your drivers license ready!
- Kill a possum stuck in a bathtub (grab a bucket and turn on the water!)
- Drive a moving truck- this sounds simple, but it proved to be a greater challenge for me
- Get my landlord to fix any problem immediately- just claim that the current problem is going to cause greater issues… when a broken refrigerator begins defrosting and leaking on floors, mold and other things become inevitable.
- Teach history without textbooks or technology
- Get rid of a ladybug infestation
- Get out of a ticket in rural areas- most cops have a soft spot for teachers, especially if you tell them where you teach
- Get barbeque sauce out of a dress- club soda, dish soap, and a toothbrush with do the trick!
- Write on a whiteboard without turning my back
- Give clear and explicit directions
- Find useable resources quickly
- Think on my feet- dictionary hangman might be one of my favorite spur of the moment games ever
- Drive in the Delta- yes, the person will pull out mere milliseconds before you reach them… always be prepared to slow down, never tail someone as they may stop any second, don’t pass when it’s foggy or raining as some drivers will surely fail to put on their lights and crush you in an instant
- Understand a dialect that I pray is unique to the Mississippi Delta
- Find a community in a place where it appears that one may not exist
- Make something out of nothing
- Manage my time as if it were gold
- Plan efficiently and effectively
- Get back up after falling off the proverbial horse day after day
- Fail and move forward in the professional arena
These students, my favorite students, assured me that my time with MTC was not in vain nor was it wasted. These students, SH at Forest Hill and EG and BC at Ruleville, pushed me to be a better teacher and coerced me into coming back day after horrible day after horrible day.
SH was my only true success during my first year, and when looking back on that horrid year, I can’t imagine what my time at FHHS would have been like had he not been in my class. SH is a little bit of a clown, in the best way possible, and an excellent athlete. He goes by a rather silly nickname and is rarely seen without a smile. He is not considered a scholar; however, his academic record is commendable. His work ethic is what sets him apart; his work ethic propels him above stronger and faster athletes on the field; his work ethic pushes him from proficient to advanced ahead of students with higher IQs. SH worked harder than any other student in my Compensatory Writing class. Because he wanted to learn, I wanted to teach. His demeanor and attitude brightened my days, and I knew I could count on him to answer questions, even if he wasn’t confident in their correctness. SH motivated me to be a better teacher, if not for everyone else that I taught, but for him.
BC and EG are the stereotypical good students. They are best friends and at the top of their class. They thrive on academic competition and are disappointed with the slightest imperfection in their numerical averages. These kinds of students can either kill a class or motivate a class. Fortunately, these two motivated their respective classes, pushing other kids to try just as hard as they did. They encouraged fellow students and often studied with my lower level kids before tests, if only to assure themselves that they already knew the material. BC and EG also had a wonderful habit of stopping by my classroom just to talk- about historical events, current events, or their lives in general. They reminded me that there was good in every day; I just had to look for it.
My favorite students worked harder than many of the rest of my students. They were driven and determined to succeed. They made my job easy and fun. They encouraged other students to participate and did their work to the best of their abilities (almost) every single day. Their work ethics drove me to plan greater enrichment activities, and I loved seeing my passion for topics get passed along to them. These students ensured that my heart didn’t turn to stone. They gave me a reason to keep coming back to school, and if I could have a classroom full of students like the three mentioned above, I would most certainly have stuck around for a third year. The relationships with the students far outweighed the troubles I faced with administrations, parents, and coworkers. These students reminded me that I accomplished what I set out to do: make a difference.
The friendships, well, those have their own place that isn’t on my professional blog; however, I must say that these people, my new (and old) friends, have extended to me a grace that I never knew before beginning MTC. Teaching didn’t always bring out the best in me and many times it brought out the worst, but my friends and my family loved me anyway. They ensured that I knew that I was loved always, even in my darkest days. While I cannot say that I would do this experience again, I am grateful for it, if only because God proved to me that His grace abounds always, even to the least of these.