Mississippi Teacher Corps

Sunday, October 21, 2007

required blog: what would I change about Teacher Corps?

We were prompted to respond to the question, "If you could change one thing about Teacher Corps, what would you change?" My answer has nothing to do with the mission of Teacher Corps, or even per se the work that the corps members are doing. It has to do simply with making us feel more comfortable during our time here. My suggestion: place corps members in a smaller geographic area, send us to fewer schools, and cluster more of us at the same schools.

Let me explain my rationale. The nature of this program, and any other similar program that sends rookies to high-poverty, critical needs schools, is extremely taxing and difficult, and I don’t think that there is anything about that that MTC could or should try to change. I also think that teaching in the Delta is a lot harder than teaching in, say, an inner city school in New York City because of the cultural adjustment we need to make to living in the Delta. I made the decision to join MTC in part because I wanted to challenge myself by living in a completely different culture, but after over a year here, I still find myself wishing that I had an easier way to temporarily distance myself from it all at the end of the day.

A few months ago, I remember talking to another corps member about how the demographic profile of MTC participants has changed over the past few years. The program used to draw older participants, many of whom had held previous jobs or already had experience teaching, and many of whom were from the region. Now, MTC is mostly composed of people like me: straight out of college, never been to Mississippi, from another part of the country, never been a teacher. Going straight from the college setting and life to my life down here was a rough shock, and I often find comfort in talking to other corps members about our feelings about being here.

Last year, there was one other corps member placed at my school, and I was very glad to have someone else working with me from the program. However, there were only two of us, and I think I would have felt much more comfortable being an outsider at my school if there had been more of us. I often envied my friends who were placed in a high school half an hour from mine where a dozen of the teachers were current or former MTC or TFA members. Often, when a teacher or an administrator in my school did something that seemed completely illogical to me, and everyone else around me seemed fine with it, I wanted to turn to someone else from MTC and say, “Does that seem like a good idea to you? I’m not going crazy, am I?” This year, I am the only corps member at my school, and there is a first-year at another school in the district. I really enjoy spending time after school hanging out with this teacher and, if it’s been a bad day in the schools, having someone else to talk to about how crazy our district is. It’s really comforting to have someone else going through the same experiences, and I wish there were someone else at my school so that I could have more shared experiences.

Another reason that I wish we were clustered more is that as anyone who’s moved here from somewhere else will tell you, the Delta is a lonely place. I’ve become better about becoming a part of my community, and I enjoy attending football games and any other events where I run into students and their families outside of school, but at the end of the day, I’ll never be quite like the locals here, and I sometimes want to just spend some of my free time with people that I have more in common with. I’d feel more able to do this if there were a bunch of MTC people in my district rather than just me and one other teacher.

Of course, all of my ideas here are about a way to make the adjustment to the Delta easier for corps members. I have no idea what the implications of clustering teachers more closely would be for the program, but speaking just from my own feelings, I’d like to feel less isolated.

Now Playing- Back in Bluegrass- Money Talks

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

required blog: relaxing outside of school

I'm not going to make any claims that I've figured out the best way to take care of myself outside of school, but I'm certainly trying. Here are my thoughts:

-Take care of yourself physically. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself and for your students. My mood is significantly better at school when I've eaten and slept properly. Make sure you get enough sleep at night, even if it means putting off grading of papers or something. Eat well. If you don't feel like cooking every day, make a big batch of something tasty and healthy over the weekend that you can save in the fridge for the days you come home and don't have the energy to do anything more elaborate for a meal than pop some food in the microwave. Also, do whatever type of physical activity helps you unwind. I'll often go running as soon as I get home from a long day at school and can't stand to think about doing school work. It clears my head.

-When you finish doing school work for the night, devote at least a little time winding down by doing something low-energy that you enjoy. Read a book, watch videos, eat ice cream, whatever is fun and relaxing for you. It even helps you sleep better.

-Front-load your week. This is not a matter of choice for me; my school requires me to hand in detailed lesson plans for the whole week each Monday morning. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to do it, but taking an hour or two on a Sunday to figure out what I'm doing (not down to every last detail, but at least a general idea) each day of the week makes my evenings less stressful. It means that other than taking a few minutes on a weeknight to put together a powerpoint or make up some practice questions, I don't have to devote much time to lesson planning during the week. This leaves me with time to focus on other things, like calling parents, grading (at least in theory), and of course sleeping.

-Talk to people. Socializing helps me a lot when I'm under the weather. Do something simple like meeting up with people to make dinner. If you're not around other MTC people that you can hang out with, call your friends and family who are somewhere else. They'll love to hear from you, and they'll remind you how awesome you are for doing this job and will offer tons of sympathy if things aren't going well.

-Don't feel guilty about doing nice things for yourself. If you don't do nice things for yourself, you'll probably wind up going crazy.

Now playing: The Knack- My Sherona

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Required blog: Is MTC making a difference?

Is MTC making a difference? Yes. Do I think MTC will ever “fix” the problems of educational inequality, racism, and everything else that plagues the Delta? No.
The way I see it, a successful corps member exposes students to new opportunities. I think a huge part of the impact of our program lies just in bringing educated young people from all over the country to the Delta. Many of our students don’t have exposure to the way people live outside of the Delta, and have never met anyone like their MTC teachers. I think that just by being present at our schools, we give our students ideas about what kind of possibilities exist for someone who gets a higher education.
By no means do I think this is the only positive influence we have on our students. A good corps member is more creative and inspired than the majority of teachers our students have, and even though I’m sure all of us have endured students’ complaints that we “make them do too much work” and are “boring,” there are those moments when we realize that we’ve made our subject matter, or even the act of being in school, much more enjoyable for some of our students. As a science teacher, I hope to convince my students that science is interesting enough that they will continue to take it, and I think I’ve succeeded in at least a few cases. A few weeks ago, I ran into a former student of mine outside of school. She happened to be one of my favorite students, and we chatted for about 15 minutes. She told me that science is her favorite class in school now because I made it that way for her. This anecdote, in a nutshell, is why I think MTC is making a differenced.
Now, onto my less optimistic thoughts on what I think MTC can’t do. We’re all working hard to inspire our students and increase academic performance, and I’m always impressed by my classmates who take their students on cool field trips, start a new activity at their school, or boast an amazing increase in state test results. I’m not trying to belittle these accomplishments in any way, but I don’t think that a few amazing teachers at a school are enough to turn the school around. If it were, the schools where we’ve been sending corps members for years would be good schools by now. I think that for the whole school system to improve, competent administrators would have to come in and make major changes, including firing a lot of teachers. I could write a few pages on all the things I think need to be done to make our schools good schools, but my point is that I don’t think any of these changes lie in the power of MTC. I apologize for the pessimism, but from talking to people who’ve lived in the Delta for decades, and even from watching the changes that have happened in my own school district over the past year, I’ve concluded that things are getting worse in the Delta, and I don’t realistically think things will improve any time soon. So, to sum it up: MTC is making a difference in the lives of a small number of students (which is a major accomplishment) but is not going to fix the Delta’s problems on a big scale.

Now playing: Lazy Monday