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.

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