Mississippi Teacher Corps

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My MTC experience

“I laughed, I cried, I lost 15 pounds” –Steven Colbert

How should I sum up my two years down in the Delta? I guess I’ll start with the beginning. I came down here just a few days after I graduated from college. I wanted to fight for social justice and give underserved children a chance for the future. I wanted to become a good teacher. I wanted to become a stronger, braver, more resilient person. At the end of May, I’ll leave my school for good. I’m worn out and tired of not getting the respect I want. But have I met the goals that originally drove me to come down here? Yes.

When I relive my first week of teaching in my memory, I literally get a knot in my stomach. I had only a few days to move down here before school started, and when the former owners of my house did not move out by the agreed-upon date, I was left with no home to move into for the first week of school. A second-year MTC teacher in town was kind enough to take me in, give me sleeping space, and take care of me during that time. Even so, not having my own living space during that very stressful week messed me up, and every time I needed something, I had to think about whether it was at my friend’s house, in storage at my landlord’s house, in the trunk of my car, or in my classroom. After the first week of school, I flew out of town for the weekend to see a friend who was living out of the country and only back in the US for a brief period of time, which meant that I was sleep-deprived and didn’t get to recuperate from the week. Before the kids showed up, we had a few teacher work days. Let’s say that I received less than a warm welcome from most of my new co-workers. I will always have a special place in my heart for my janitors, who were two of the very few people that were friendly to me from the beginning. During our first teacher work day, I went to lunch with many of the other teachers. As soon as I’d picked up my food, the teacher sitting next to me started grilling me on my discipline policy and asked what I planned to use as punishments. As I went through my list (warnings, writing assignments, phone calls, detentions, office referrals, etc.), she kept barking at me, “What else?” and then proceeded to lecture me on how the kids were “monsters” who wouldn’t do anything I told them to do unless I paddled them very hard. Other teachers chimed in their agreement, and after a meeting in the library, another teacher pulled me aside to give me more or less the same speech. When the principal started talking about corporal punishment, and I asked whether corporal punishment at the school was limited to paddling or included things like push-ups, the entire staff started laughing at me, and people I hadn’t even met spent the next few days teasing me and asking if I’d made any kids do push-ups. That day, I also received “helpful” advice from many of the teachers: the new seventh grade class was the worst class EVER to come through the school district. I went home that night and was so anxious I couldn’t sleep at all. For the first week and a half of school, I woke up with so much dread that I couldn’t even eat breakfast, meaning that I was weak and shaking from the time the kids showed up until I calmed down enough to have a snack. The more I think about those days, the more amazed I am that I survived all that. I would not go through those first days again for any amount of money.

During my first few months of school, I hadn’t even realized that we had overhead projectors, and I would furiously scribble notes on the board, then erase them, every single period! I spent a good part of my first year just learning about basic things to do and not do at school.

I am unspeakably glad that I’ll be done this stint in a month and a half. My first year, I gave out consequences like no other and had a horrible time with classroom management. My second year, I gave fewer consequences and spent more time talking to the kids about their behavior. It made things better, but I still don’t feel like I’m taken seriously as an authority figure. I’m sick of being disrespected and ignored, and I’m sick of living in a crazy place where a parent’s worth is measured by whether or not they buy their children new clothes, not by the way their children treat others. At least once a week, something happens at school that makes me come home angry. It’s not healthy for me to spend so much of my time being angry, and when I’m not angry about a specific incident, I’m angry about the state of my school in general. I’m sick of the crazy behavior, in kids and adults, that I see going on at school every day, and I feel that my talents would be better used somewhere else. As my guidance counselor said to me today, “You are extremely intelligent, and the kids here don’t appreciate that. Kids somewhere else will.”

That being said, I’m glad I did this. I spent so much of the past two years just trying to get kids in order that it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized how much I enjoy teaching. This realization came when our school went on a crazy test-prep schedule that involves putting 40+ kids in a classroom with one teacher who is actually teaching, and a second teacher who is just a classroom manager. With a 300 pound black male teacher in my room, I could finally teach instead of worrying that if I turn my head for two seconds, someone would throw something (not an exaggeration). It’s been great. It made me realize that if I go to a school where the kids are reasonably behaved because they’ve been taught manners, I’ll really enjoy my job.

During TEAM, I remember one of the veteran teachers telling me that I’m one of the 10% or so of teachers that are natural born teachers. Even so, I had a lot to learn about teaching. I am now fully confident in my abilities to come up with and teach an interesting and coherent lesson, and I feel that I’ve grown into a very good teacher during my time here. Last week, I had two student teachers observe me, and they both commented on how refreshing it was to meet someone with so much passion and energy, and that they could tell I liked teaching just by watching me teach. I’m in my element teaching.

Perhaps the most important thing that this experience has done for me is to give me confidence in myself. After two years, I still don’t stand where I want to in my classroom, and I’ve been knocked around so much that sometimes I wonder how I convinced myself to stay here at all. During the past two years, I have, at times, become very sick, felt useless, become depressed, felt alone, felt homesick, and just wanted to leave this crazy place behind. But, I can say something that many of the local teachers at my school who quit mid-year can’t: I stuck it out and survived. Shortly before I came here, I met a girl at my college who was from southern Mississippi, and when I told her that I was thinking of teaching in the Delta, she looked at me like I’d said I was thinking of jumping in a tiger cage at the zoo. Being too unfamiliar with the south to understand the difference between the Coast and the Delta, I responded, “But you’re FROM Mississippi.” She corrected me, “I’m from southern Mississippi. It’s different there. The Delta is crazy. If you can survive teaching there, you can do anything!” After my two years, I think she was right to look at me like I was crazy when I said I was coming here to teach. But when I look back on all the struggles I’ve been through and overcome, sometimes without anyone to support me through the tough times, I feel proud of myself. I feel that this experience has opened up a lot more opportunities for my future, because after surviving these two years, I’m not afraid or intimidated to do big things any more. I survived the Delta. Whatever other things I do in life will be easy after this.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

spring in the delta

Spring is the one season in the delta that I like compared to up north. Here’s a quick rundown of the other seasons. Summer: hot and humid to the point where I sometimes feel like I’m suffocating when I walk outside. No good for outdoor sports or most other kinds of hanging out outside. Fall: not as bad as summer, but the leaves aren’t all that pretty. Temperatures are bearable, but those awful fire ants prevent me from enjoying being outside a lot of the time. Winter: horrible. Everything is brown and dead, and it is cold enough to run my heating bill very high and keep my house from feeling comfortable and to make me feel uncomfortable, but not cold enough for snow. The cold is a damp, biting cold, not a dry cold. The worst part about the cold is that temperatures rapidly fluctuate between the 30’s and 60’s, meaning that I never really get adjusted to the cold.

I love spring down here, though. I noticed the first signs of it when I returned from break. First, the daffodils and Japanese magnolias come out, adding a little bit of color to the drab landscape. Then, the cherry blossoms, dogwoods, and more ground flowers come into bloom. Bright yellowish green leaves start appearing on the trees. Thanks to daylight savings time, it no longer gets dark shortly after I come home, making me feel like I have more time to relax after a day of school. I can smell springtime, too: the scent of the different flowers mixes together to give the air an overall sweetness, and I start to smell freshly cut grass from the neighbor’s yards.

Soon, the bayou trees will have leaves again and the bayou will look like a proper swamp. The white magnolias will start to bloom, brightening up the landscape with large white flowers. Then, the blackberries will ripen, meaning that I can wander the edges of the catfish ponds and cotton fields picking them and have enough to make a pie, or just have a bowl of big fresh blackberries to eat.

At night, I hear the sounds of spring: the birds continue singing throughout the night, and the peepers from the ponds sing their songs. Crickets chirp. But a few days ago, I heard the sound that, to me, heralds the official arrival of spring: the low, buzzing, almost mechanical song of the locusts.

Monday, March 24, 2008

assigned blog: spring break

One of our assigned blog topics was to write about what we are doing for spring break. Well, spring break has already passed, as has the four day mini break we had for Easter, so I’ll talk about what I did for both of those breaks, since they were two of the best breaks I’ve had since I’ve been down here (especially compared to Christmas break, when I’d just got over being sick for a month with the flu, then had to have my wisdom teeth out and a birth mark removed…)

On the first day of spring break, I drove half an hour to a bookstore with a stack of nine weeks tests and six crates of notebooks. I sat in the bookstore for hours and hours and graded every test, scaled each one, and put them in Gradekeeper. Then, I went home and graded all the notebooks. It was a very unpleasant day. The grading was tedious and boring, and I grew increasingly disgusted with the lack of progress my students had made. Why did I do this to myself the first day of break? Because that meant I was scott-free the rest of break to do whatever the heck I wanted. Over Christmas break, I took my nine weeks exams home with me with the full intention of grading them, but kept putting it off, and every time I thought about them, I started to get anxious and couldn’t make myself sit down and grade them, and it got worse and worse until the night before I flew back to Mississippi, when I mentioned to my mom that I was stressed out about my grading, and she said, “I wish you’d told me earlier. We could have sat down and graded the tests together really quickly.” So, I had to fly back to Mississippi and do lots of grading. It made me extremely unhappy. I didn’t want a repeat of this experience over spring break.

Following the day of unpleasantness, I drove up to Virginia with a friend from MTC and backpacked in Shenandoah National Park for three nights. I loved this vacation. The drive to the park through rolling hills and pastures was a welcome change from the flatness of the Delta, as was meeting a lot of very helpful and hard-working people along the way. The park itself was beautiful; it was early enough in the season that there were hardly any other visitors. We saw bubbling streams, waterfalls, rocky ridges, and more. We cleaned off in freezing cold rivers after accumulating a few days of sweat. I bonded with my hiking buddy, and teased the poor guy for a good portion of the trip. Being in the woods and being physically active for almost the whole day did wonders for me, physically and mentally. I was amazed how strong and refreshed I felt when I returned from break. I can’t wait until the next time I have a few days off and can escape to the woods again (which will probably not be til the summer… but hey, that’s only 8 weeks away!)

After spring break, I had four days of school (thanks to practice state testing and having to hold homeroom for 4-5 hours, they were not four of my better days) and then Easter break. For Easter break, my mom flew down to visit, and we drove to the Gulf Coast, where neither of us had ever been. We stayed in Ocean Springs and also went to Biloxi and Gulfport. As I told my mom, had I gone to the coast last year, I don’t think I would have come back to my school this year. I would have tried to land a job at Ocean Springs or another school in the area and taken off for the coast (maybe)! There are certain things, like swamps, Spanish moss, and forests, that I’d associated with the deep South and been disappointed not to find in the Delta. The coast had all these things! It also had palm trees, palm fronds, and bright flowers surrounding everything, and beaches! The brackish swamps were my favorite site, apart from the big old live oaks; I saw alligators for the first time in my life. I could still see evidence of the hurricane; some destroyed buildings have not yet been cleaned up, and plenty of construction is still under way, but it was still beautiful. I’m not a casino person and stayed away from that scene, but I was amazed by everything else on the coast. We took a ferry out to Ship Island one afternoon. While I was on the beach at Ship Island, a pod of dolphins came so close to the shore that I could have gone out to swim with them if I’d wanted to (and the water was almost warm enough)! I saw jellyfish, pelicans, and all sorts of other cool marine life. We went to a Japanese steakhouse where the chef does a little acrobatic show as he prepares the food. I discovered my favorite blues joint/barbeque place to date: a place in Ocean Springs called The Shed. It has an outdoor stage where musicians perform. Strings of little lights radiate from the stage and shine down on the outdoor tables. There are more tables inside, along with all kinds of grafitti, signatures, signs, stickers, and all kinds of other things to look at; I could spend a whole week wandering around that place just reading everything. Oh, and did I mention it’s next to a big old brackish swamp? Sorry to offend the delta loyalists reading this, but wow, I’ve been missing out on the best part of this state.

Now playing: Soulja Boy- Report Card

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On how my principal made me so angry I took last Friday off

A week and a half ago, I was in a meeting with the rest of the science teachers at my school during our shared planning period. The principal was supposed to come to the meeting, too, but had not shown up. We had a lot to cover in the meeting, and I still had a few progress reports to fill out for students coming to me in the afternoon, so I was trying to keep things moving. Then, my assistant principal showed up and said that the principal had sent for me and the other 7th grade science teacher.

We started walking toward her office, and I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. It didn’t seem like she would call just two of us out of the room unless she had something bad to say, and it’s an acknowledged fact at my school that the principal has it in for the other 7th grade science teacher.

We arrived at the principal’s office and found that the new career discovery teacher (as in this guy has been working at the school for all of one month) had also been called to this meeting. The principal ushered us into her office, closed the door, and handed all three of us a piece of paper. It was a written reprimand for- get this- making our kids write down notes. I kid you not.

The principal then proceeded to chew us out by saying that if we are just making our kids copy down notes from the overhead or powerpoint, it takes too long and wastes class time, and they are not actively engaged in learning. We pointed out that when we make our students take notes, we facilitate a class discussion about the notes, ask them questions as they are doing the notes, and have them solve problems afterward that make them use the notes (all things that our principal was implying we weren’t doing). She ignored this and continued to tell us that from now on, we need to hand out printed copies of the notes whenever we use the overhead or powerpoint. Hmm, so my students are not engaged in learning when I have them writing and holding a discussion, but they will be when I pass them a piece of paper that half of them won’t even bother to read, and three quarters of them will have lost by class the next day? Not to mention that I have a very good spiral notebook-keeping system to help my kids with organization, and this throws my whole system, the system that I took a good part of the first nine weeks to establish with my students, to pieces.

Among other insulting things the principal said, she told us that if all we were doing for our instruction was making kids copy notes (do any of us do that for the whole class period? No.), she could just have a janitor stand in the door and watch the kids. That gave me half a mind to walk out of her office and tell her that if she thinks the janitor can do my job, that’s who she’ll have to get to do my job for the rest of the year. I kept my mouth shut during this whole meeting because I know not to talk when I am that angry. She also told us that we were having classroom management problems because we make our students take notes. Huh? She said that too many kids are going to in-school detention from our classes. The funny thing is that the day after she told us that, there were so many kids in ISD that they had to split them into two classrooms, and how many of those kids were there because of me? One. The kid who isn’t even my student but walked up to me in the hall and shined a laser pointer in my eye. Clearly, my use of the overhead projector is the problem. She said that she has a problem with how many students are missing math, language arts, and reading because they get ISD from us, and that it isn’t fair to make them miss those classes. We aren’t MCT subjects, she said, so she could just throw away all of our referrals, but she’s not that kind of person. Gee, not throwing away my referrals makes you a saint, why did I never appreciate that before? Oh, and it was also really helpful to my classroom management when you told the students at the beginning of the year that if they messed up in math, language arts, or reading and got sent to the office, you would give them the maximum punishment. So, the kids heard that it’s OK to goof off in science because it’s not an MCT subject. Do you want to make this just about the test? Then I’ll point out that my students need to pass Biology I to graduate from high school, and they won’t be able to do that without my class.

Of all the gripes I had about this whole “meeting,” here’s my biggest one: the principal never mentioned to us that she had any issue with us making our students take notes! In fact, she has observed my class multiple times while students were taking notes and never said anything bad about it; she always told me that she really likes the way I do my instruction. She reads my detailed (by which I mean 2.5 pages for every DAY) lesson plans that I need to turn in each week, and she’s never made any negative comment about the students taking down notes. Here’s the kicker: I remember that during my first week at this school, my principal gave all the teachers a memo about use of the copier that told us we should each monitor and limit our use of the copier because our students need to learn important skills like (drumroll please) taking notes. Given all these events, call me crazy, but maybe my principal should have discussed the note-taking issue in a more open way before she called us into her office, wrote us up, and insulted us. These gripes (sarcastic comments omitted) are all going into a letter that I’m giving my superintendent on my last day of school in 12 weeks.

Now playing: The Hold Steady- South Town Girls

Friday, January 04, 2008

Favorite Students

We were prompted to describe one of our favorite students. I thought about this topic for a while and decided to write about three of my favorite students. Here are the Breakfast Club-style descriptions of these three boys: the smart quiet kid who most teachers probably like, the boy who looks like he's about 8 years old and is severely lacking in some basic academic skills, and the juvenile delinquent "three-peater." The second two probably sound like weird choices, and it probably seems weirder that I'm grouping these kids together. As it happens, I have all of them in my 5th period class, and unlikely as it seems, they always choose to work together on any group assignments. I chose to write about all three of them because what I like best about them is how they help each other.

I'll start by describing the first one: the smart, quiet kid. He has the highest average in my class, and is the male student I took to the Ole Miss game (see previous blog). This kid never fails to amaze me. Every single time I give a test, he's the only one who makes a perfect score (others come close, but he's always just that little bit ahead). He's very shy, but always pleasant and cooperative. I think what surprised me most about this kid was when I took him to the Ole Miss game and he started telling me about his grades in other classes. He had a few A's, a few B's, and a C (in math! How did that happen?) After spending the day with him and the two other students I took to Ole Miss, I was very glad I'd decided to take him, because I realized that while the two girls had been recognized as excellent students by their teachers and families, I might have been the first teacher to tell this kid how smart he really is. He strikes me as extremely mature in that he has concerns for other people in a way that most of his classmates are not yet able to. I'll always remember how he said he felt sorry for the other kids in my class who didn't get to go to the football game with us, and how he asked me if I could take the kids with 100's for the second nine weeks to another game, so that he and the two girls could go again, but this time, even more kids would get to go because they would make 100's.

Next: the kid who is very, very behind in school. This kid is very easy to like. For one thing, he's adorable: he looks like he's 8 years old and talks in a very soft voice that makes him sound young. He's the only kid that actually whispered instead of talking in a normal (or quiet) voice when we went to the library. He's earnest, sweet, and also quite shy. In a lot of ways, he just seems like a little child to me. This view of him is spurred by the fact that the first time he told me he needed help with a long division problem, I realized he couldn't do single-digit subtraction and ended up asking him to hold up his fingers and use them to count as a way to do subtraction. At this point, you're probably wondering why this kid is one of my favorite students (after all, a likable person and a favorite student are not the same thing). The reason he's one of my favorite students is because he's surprised me with how much progress he's made. He barely passed the first nine weeks of my class (he made a 74, which was the highest grade on his report card) despite working hard the whole time and even coming after school to check on a missing assignment; he was just so behind that I couldn't see much hope for him and just kept wondering how he even made it to 7th grade. I spent as much time working with him one on one during class as I could, but worried that I was coming along too late in his academic life to help. The first student that I mentioned, just out of the goodness of his heart, took to helping this kid with his work, especially anything involving math. The last time I averaged grades, he had around a 90 in my class. His hard work finally started paying off, and I don't know how to explain it, but one day, things just started clicking for him. A few months ago, this kid told me that 10-8 = 7, and now he can do long division. Better yet, his self-confidence has increased. When I ask for volunteers to read or answer a question, his hand is often the first one up.

And, my least likely favorite student: the three-peater. I taught this kid last year, too, and if I'd made a list of my 10 least favorite students last year, he probably would have been on it. Last year, he missed three months straight of school, around which he had other extended absences. After this went on for a long time, the attendance officer finally caught up with him, and he was locked away in the juvenile detention center for a while. After he got out of the detention center, I spent my days hoping he'd just skip school so that I wouldn't have to deal with him throwing things, hitting kids, sleeping in class (that was on a good day), and doing everything except what I wanted him to do. I don't know how many times I sent him to the office. When I got my rosters at the beginning of this year, I found his name on my list and groaned. I wondered why they didn't switch him over to the other seventh grade hall, and the other seventh grade science teacher (who had him two years ago) said that he was like "salt in a wound." Despite all my negative feelings toward this kid last year, I'd recognized that he was smart. The first few weeks of this year, he goofed around and didn't seem like he was going to do much better. I'm not sure when he started acting better, although I do remember him staying after school one day to help me put away the classroom microscopes. I also remember another day when he came to school late, with no backpack, and put his head down on a desk once he entered my classroom. When I came over to see what was up, he told me he had nothing to write with, and I gave him a pencil. He worked hard for the rest of class. At any rate, somewhere near the beginning of this year, he became one of my favorite students. These days, he comes to school every day and often stays after. He works hard on all the assignments I give him in class, and even gets together with his study buddies (the two students I mentioned above) before tests to study outside of school. I told him that if he kept working this hard, I'd consider him for my Star Student award. He earned it, and his mother is proud of him. I'll never forget how happy he looked the first time I told him he was averaging an "A" in my class. But what really made me happy was the day he came to me after class and asked what he would need to do to join the science club. He's on the team now, and never fails to tell me every Tuesday that he's staying after for the science club. Then, he asked me if I had a book (not the textbook) that he could take home and read on his own to learn more about science. That night, I went home, found my "Pocket Science Facts" book, and gave it to him the next day. That book was a gift to me, and I happen to really like it. I trust him to take care of it, though.

Each time I give a major test, I pass out study questions the day before that students spend the class period answering. They may use their notes, books, me, and each other to find the answers. My favorite part about these review days is watching these three boys work in a group together. If one of them was absent on a particular day, the other two will make sure he gets the notes that he missed. While I need to practically sit on some of my students to make sure that they are talking about their study questions instead of whatever else is going on in their lives, these three will sit together and explain the material to each other and actually seem happy doing it! Once they've answered their study questions, I can hear them quizzing each other to commit the hard facts to memory. If only all my students treated each other this well.

Now playing: Kraftwerk- We are the Robots
Note: Anyone who personally knows me and wants to see a picture of these 3 kids doing the lab together, e-mail me. In the interests of anonymity, I can't post it on my blog.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The stupidest comment I've heard in my life

This afternoon, I was walking down the street and passed three construction workers. One of them said hi to me, and I said hi back to him. The second one looked at me for a few seconds, then smiled and said, "Pretty Mexican." "Indian. I'm half Indian," I corrected. The third guy chuckled and said, "You Indian, me cowboy!"
I may love some of my students dearly, but there is no way in hell I am staying in Mississippi after this school year ends. I believe this anecdote sums up why I feel this way. Six more months and I can go back to New England.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Taking my students to the Ole Miss football game

Last Saturday, I took 3 of my students to the Ole Miss football game. For those unfamiliar with this event, each fall, the MTC program director gives tickets to one Ole Miss home game to second-years wishing to take their students. Anyway, I had a hard time deciding which 3 students to take, so I took the 3 who earned 100’s for the first nine weeks in my class. This seemed like a fair way to do things, and it just so happens that I really like those 3 kids anyway. So, at 9:30 on Saturday morning, I met Tony, Jasmine, and Dominique (not their real names) in front of the school and ushered them into my car for the drive up to Oxford.

I felt awkward and tense at first. I’d failed to realize that Jasmine and Dominique were already good friends, but neither of them knew Tony very well. Tony is an extremely nice kid, but is shy and a little awkward. To make matters worse, he doesn’t always speak clearly, so I often have to ask him to repeat himself. Jasmine and Dominique chatted in the back seat of my car while Tony sat up front and toyed with his cell phone. I started to feel a little better when I struck up a conversation with Tony about how his father lives in Memphis, and he misses him.

When we first got to Oxford, I asked my students if they wanted to see the square. “The square? Huh? What’s that?” was the response I received. “OK, you’re about to find out,” I said. Once I parked in the square, we stopped at Square Books. At first, when I asked the students if they wanted ice cream or coffee, they were too shy to order anything, but after a few minutes, they caved in and ordered. It didn’t occur to me that some 12 year olds don’t know how caffeine affects them, and Jasmine ended up becoming hyper for much of the day after drinking a cup of coffee. But, as I told her, that was fine by me as long as she didn’t act that way during class (which she of course never does). We took a walk around the square, stopping along the way at a few stores, and I felt a little bad as Tony sheepishly stood in the doorway of the dress store that the two girls had rushed into. Soon, all three of them were talking about how the Square was the best place they’d been, and how they would ask their families to take them back there.

After a walk around the Square, I spent a very long time finding parking, then took a walk around campus (or at least a small part of it) with the kids. I didn’t want to linger long in the Grove; I felt strange around all the Southern aristocrats and made-up girls in stiletto heels and dresses. The students enjoyed the partial tour I gave them of campus and commented that it looked like a really nice school, but were tired after the walk from my car to campus, so we headed to the stadium pretty quickly.

On the way to the stadium, and once in our seats, I ran into a number of other MTC’ers with their students. I had never fully explained MTC to my students and had just told them that my professor for my master’s program had provided the tickets, so they were surprised at being introduced to all these other teachers. “What is this, Take your Students to the Game Day or something?” Jasmine asked. We found our seats, and the girls settled in pretty quickly, grinning and dancing with the introduction music. I was still worried that Tony felt out of place, especially since he was staying quiet, and about 20 minutes into the game, when I took him to get snacks, I asked if he was enjoying the game. “Yes. I’m glad I made 100 in your class,” he said. I was touched.

I felt just as wide-eyed as the kids did at the game. I’d never been to a Division 1 football game before, and this world of marching bands in military formations, cheerleaders, and dance teams was all new to me. I sat outside enjoying the warmth and sometimes chatting with my students, but feeling comfortable enough to sit and watch without the pressure to speak. Tony gradually felt more comfortable with the girls and was joking and chatting with them.

From a few days before the game, a big point of discussion had been where we would go to dinner. I’d told my students that I would let them pick a place and would tell them about some of the places in Oxford, and they were very excited. On the drive down, I’d tried pitching Two Stick because I wanted them to have the chance to try sushi, but none of them seemed to like this idea very much, and Jasmine said she didn’t like a lot of foods. Multiple times during the day, Jasmine had asked if there was a Pizza Hut, and also said she’d love to go to Olive Garden if Oxford had one because it was her favorite restaurant. Though I’d had hopes of convincing my students to eat at one of Oxford’s more exotic locales, in the end I suggested Old Venice, which I told them was a really good pizza place, and the girls literally started clapping. They also kept asking if we could see the Square again after the game. I went to Old Venice with many of the other MTC’ers and their students, and it was a great time. The whole drive home, my students gushed about how it was the best pizza in the world. Jasmine said that she liked Oxford so much that she wanted to stay “til really late!” After dinner, we visited the new chocolate place on the Square, took a brief walk around, and then headed home. On the drive home, the girls were giddy with excitement from the whole day, and though Tony was more subdued, I could tell he was really happy, too. He asked me if I could take them to the game again if they all made 100’s the next nine weeks, and bring even more people because even more people would make 100’s. He said that he felt sorry for the kids who didn’t get to go to Oxford with us. I let the kids take turns playing DJ with my iPod, and that happily entertained them the whole way home. When I dropped the kids off at their houses, they all hugged one another good-bye, and Jasmine and Dominique announced, “We made a new friend today! Tony is our friend!” What a great thing for a shy boy, and I hadn’t even planned it.

I loved taking my kids to the game, and I could tell that they all had a great time. The whole day made me think about how much I will miss these kids when I leave my school. It also made me realize how young they are. These three kids act serious and studious in class every day and are the kind of stellar students that never give teachers any grief, but outside of school, they laughed, joked around, acted slap-happy, and generally had a good time just being kids. I guess that really shouldn’t have surprised me, though. I was exactly the same way when I was in middle school.

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