Saturday, May 05, 2007

My MTC Experience

My MTC experience has been a challenging and rewarding one. I think that when I get old I’ll look back on these two years and realize how they helped me define who I want to be. When I entered MTC, I don’t really think I completely knew what I was getting myself into. By both taking classes and teaching them, I have been surrounded by very intelligent people, and people who motivate me. Both my classmates and my students inspire me to treat each day like the blessing it is, and to do what I can for those who surround me.
Before MTC, I knew that I wanted to find a career about which I was passionate. I had yet to clearly define that path, but I knew that my three loves were literature, languages, and music. By entering MTC, I have been able to make literature and languages the basis of my everyday work. I love the opportunity to wake up everyday and do what I love. Even though I haven’t been as involved with music as much as I would like, my two years have been enjoyable.
By becoming a teacher I have been able to do a job that matters. Even though I don’t reach every student at all times, I know that I am making a difference. My students give me a reason to continue in education, because they show me that they are learning, and that they are willing to invest in their own futures. I have had the chance to see life through the eyes of my students.
In addition, I have been in classes with one of the most unique groups of people I have ever met. Our class has proven to be a creative, hardworking, fun-loving group. We will have many stories to tell when we come back years from now. We will never forget Reggie’s questions, Jake’s love for wearing suit and tie, or the swim party on my birthday (if you don’t know, don’t ask). We will also never forget a “Platinum” night in Memphis (again, if you don’t know, don’t ask) or the daily rides to Holly Springs. And who could forget ultimate Frisbee in Mississippi’s summer heat and humidity (it’s not the heat that gets you, it’s the humidity).
I guess we have a lot of stuff to remember even outside of the classroom. For some people, this was probably a chance to live in a different part of the U.S., so their experiences are completely different. For me, it was a chance to learn a lot about my own state. I learned that laws don’t always translate into the perfect society they’re supposed create. Even though we have laws to protect our system of public education, many public schools continue to suffer. MTC has allowed me to become part of the solution to these problems. I know our program won’t fix all of the problems, but it is a start.
MTC has given us the opportunity to get out of our comfort zones. I attended good public schools, but by teaching in critical-needs schools I have dealt with everything from fights to drugs in my classroom. I now know why people complain about the state of public schools. I have seen first-hand the problems of students in the rural Mississippi Delta and the urban city of Jackson. I definitely think I’ve seen it all.
Through MTC I’ve also finally been able to close a chapter of my life—that of the college experience. Because of this, I’m glad MTC is a part of the University of Mississippi. Even though I’ll probably eventually go back to a university for my Ph.D., I got the chance to be a student one more time. I’ve soaked up the good and the bad that Ole Miss offers one last time. I find that Ole Miss is symbolic of my feelings about Mississippi. Dr. Mullins said, “Mississippi is a funny place; we learn to love it in spite of itself.” Well, I feel the same way about Ole Miss. I love that it feels like home. I love the football. I love the beautiful campus. I love a lot of things about it. However, there are some things that make me wonder if Ole Miss, like Mississippi, will ever fully change. Within my first two weeks at Ole Miss in 2000, I experienced the ugly side of Ole Miss when someone called me the “n” word. I guess things come full circle, because in my final few weeks at Ole Miss in 2007, it happened again. I see that the more we change, the more we stay the same. Do I hate these actions? Yes. But do I love Ole Miss? Yes. Do I love MTC? Yes. It’s time to move on to other chapters in my life, but I’ll never forget how MTC and Ole Miss as a whole have molded me into the person I will be. I’m proud to have been a participant in the Mississippi Teacher Corps. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to change lives one at a time.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Still Standing...

Wow, the students are really starting to get back to what they were doing last semester...The behavior problems had finally started to taper off (school wide), but I'm guessing it's the nice weather that's having an effect on them. Typically, students are getting arrested almost everyday at my school now. This is because the administration has decided to call the police whenever they fight (a good decision, I think).
Apparently, the violence is getting worse though, because one of the assistant principals made an announcement (twice) to all students that if they fight, they will be sent to jail or the detention center. I guess some of the students don't even care about/ think about the consequences.
Meanwhile, we had an incident the other day where someone (not sure if it was one of our students or not) supposedly had a loaded gun at school the other day. The police arrested him and, according to another teacher, beat him up pretty bad. They even slapped him in the face for talking. An ambulance had to be called. Other students saw this, so you can imagine what this does for their perception of police in general.
In an unrelated story, I believe one of my students who dropped out a couple of months ago is being charged with burglary. His name, age, and even middle initial were given, so I'm assuming it was probably him. I hope he eventually learns from this incident, because I had several discussions with him while he was a student. It's kind of hard to believe he will change though, because I can remember him bragging about a cousin of his getting ready to kill somebody (literally) upon release from jail a few months ago. It's sad.
And finally, I can't forget the most recent event. A student set a teacher's portable classroom (trailer) on fire last weekend. It's the 3rd time they've broken into her classroom this year, and about the 8th time over the past two years. I felt bad for her, because she's here for the students, and they can't see that. There's yellow tape outside her classroom, and I don't know when/if she'll be able to get her room back this school year. Supposedly, they destroyed her grades and a lot of other paperwork inside.
Clearly, something about the culture of violence and misbehavior needs to change. If the students say they want better lives for themselves than their parents had, then it is up to us (educators) and the parents to show them not only how to succeed, but also what causes failure. I think we really need to start a mentoring program with Jackson State, Tougaloo, Mississippi College, Milsaps, and other area schools in order to bring in successful college students. When our students see others who look like them and come from some of the same backgrounds, then we will be able to reach them. They need to see others who they consider to be like themselves in order to realize that they can choose this route, or the route some of their associates have taken. There is still hope, but I think mentoring is a key element.

Getting Certified

Lately, I've been going through the process of trying to get a job for next year. Although I said yes on my letter of intent with JPS, the principal knows that I probably won't be coming back next year. Recently, I've been checking out my options for teaching in other places.
At first, I was looking to teach in a private school in NYC or Miami. I even found a diversity teacher fair for private schools in the state of New York. I signed up and got my plane ticket. At the same time, I was using Carney Sandoe and Associates (a placement agency) to help with nationwide private school teacher vacancies. In researching employment possibilities at private schools, I have found that placement agencies are an essential element. This is because private schools, especially the more prestigious ones, don't typically post all of their vacancies to the general public. They use the agencies, which are paid by the individual schools, to find good candidates for them. So from what I understand, you're not really going to have a good shot at employment unless there is an agency vouching for you and your abilities. In addition, it is apparently harder for teachers with less experience to get jobs in private schools.
I was pursuing the private school route because I thought it would lead to a teaching position where I wouldn't really have to worry about excessive behavior problems. In addition, my hands would not be tied by what, how, and when a school district wants me to teach things. Plus, no state testing.
After several weeks of this, I realized that my heart is in public schools. While I would love to teach in a great school, that's not why I originally joined Mississippi Teacher Corps. Ultimately, I realized that I love teaching in public schools. I feel that I have a greater impact on the students, because most of the students at good private schools are probably going to succeed and go to a great college with or without my help. I appreciate private schools and the opportunities that they provide, but everyone isn't privileged enough to have that kind of education--and I want to help those who aren't born with that silver spoon.
After reaching the conclusion that I want to teach in public schools, I had to decide between NYC and Miami. While New York City is supposedly the greatest city in America, I have wanted to move to Miami since the 9th grade. Because of this, I chose Miami. I've sent in all my materials for a temporary 3 yr license in the state of Florida (this was a pretty easy process). However, now I'm dealing with the paperwork for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. There is a mountain of paperwork, and I haven't really seen that many vacancies available for an English teacher. It's weird because last year JPS posted roughly 20, and M-DCPS is the 4th largest district in the U.S. I've only seen roughly 10 vacancies, but maybe it's still a bit early. Anyway, I'm trying my hardest to get a job there. If I do, I'm definitely gonna rub it in when its 75 degrees in January and Brian (NYC), Joel (Boston), and others are trying to reach 32 degrees. I can't wait!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Decisions, Decisions...

Well, we've reached January, and I have to start making a decision about what to do next year. One of my assistant principals asked me the other day what I planned on doing next year. At this point, there are several options to consider:
First, I might stay at Wingfield next year. This option would give me the chance to be a second-year teacher at the school. Since I came from a different school last year, I haven't really had the chance to experience being a veteran. I have no real problems with my school, but I would like to see other parts of the country.
Also, I have considered moving to another state to teach for another year or two. Among the top possibilities are Miami and New York City. I have always loved Miami, and it seems like a paradise. I realize that teaching in the Miami-Dade schools would be a challenge, but I think it would be an enjoyable one. The biggest issue is cost of living. Teacher salaries are higher than in Mississippi, but from doing a bit of research and talking to people who have taught in the Miami area, it appears to be too expensive.
New York City is probably the option most worth considering. If I moved to NYC, I would be able to leave the South and see what it's like to live somewhere else. In addition, many of the graduate schools that I am considering are in NYC or in the region. While it would be expensive, teacher pay is much higher than in Mississippi.
These are just possibilities, and I have yet to make a final decision. I do need to make the decision in the next several weeks. I guess we'll see what happens...

Sunday, December 31, 2006


The first-years asked us how we feel about blogging. After thinking about it, I guess I see both the positive and negative sides of blogging.
First, I like how blogging gives me the opportunity to tell any MTC prospects about the teaching experience. When I was considering applying for MTC, I read the blogs that were written (only about two people blogged then). It gave me a pretty good preview of what to expect as a teacher. In addition, blogging gives me a chance to vent about the everyday events at school. When I blog, I also read about other teachers' experiences in the classroom. It provides a sort of discussion forum even away from classes at Ole Miss.
Blogging also has its negative side. While it hasn't hppened to me personally, I've heard about situations where people have had their blogs read by other faculty members at their schools. I guess this could be unfortunate depending on your personal situation. Hasn't happened to me so far, so I'm assuming it's the exception and not the norm.
Also, I just sometimes get tired of blogging. Sometimes you want to blog and sometimes you don't. I think it would be more effective if the blogging requirement was once per month. Some people don't even do it, so maybe this required 2 blogs a month isn't really serving it's true purpose (getting the true feelings of all 2nd year teachers). I just think it feels a bit forced at times.
How has my attitude toward blogging changed? Well, in the beginning I thought it would be this great idea for discussion. Now, I still think it's useful, but I prefer reading them to writing them. I do think the second-years should be excused from writing them now that we have finished our coursework. Some people would still do it, and others probably won't do it anyway.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Teacher Man and Other Thoughts

Lately, I've been kind of busy, but I've found time to read. Recently, I read Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt. My father gave me this book last Christmas, but I didn't finally get around to reading it until a few weeks ago. Teacher Man is a book about an Irish immigrant who teaches in New York City public schools for twenty or thirty years. Being a teacher in public inner-city schools, I was able to relate to many of the stories in the book.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the book was that it wasn't just another story of teacher successes in the classroom. Frank McCourt discusses his successes, failures, and weird ideas in the classroom. He openly admits that he did some kids an injustice by not reaching them. In addition, he tells stories of having his English classes read cookbook recipes in classes. He knows some of these ideas are unique, but discusses how they really got his classes interested in the English language.
The part of the book that relates most to MTC is the author's discussion (throughout the book) of his experiences as a new teacher. With over thirty students in his classes, he tells about how he failed to get control over the class. Sometimes, in fact, he settled for telling stories about growing up in Ireland in order to keep his classes quiet. Clearly, this isn't what Dr. Bounds (State Superintendent) thinks we should doing in the classroom. However, I think this book should be required (or at least recommended) reading for MTCers because it's NOT the classic story of a great teacher coming in and saving the day. It's a story of a good teacher struggling to reach his students, while facing the real challenges of inner-city public schools. We as new teachers must realize that 99 percent of us won't come in the first day and transform problem-filled schools into havens for learning. Rather, it is a step-by-step, hard work, struggling day-to-day, PROCESS. There will be setbacks. But you will reach students. Enjoy the book.

Plans for Next Year

Here's a topic that many second years are probably thinking about right now. Personally, I have yet to come to a conclusion, but I am weighing my options. Here are the options I am considering at this point:
First, I'm considering moving to Miami to teach for a year. I have visited several times, and I know this would be an enjoyable city to live in. I believe that after a year, I will be going to get my M.B.A. (hopefully at a top-ranked school or the University of Miami--if I plan on staying there for a while).
I came to my second option after talking to Brian a week or two ago. He was telling me about the possibility of teaching in NYC, and now I'm really considering it. Since most of the M.B.A. programs I am most interested in are in the Northeast, this could be a practical option. I have visited New York twice, and it seems like one of the greatest cities in the U.S. Clearly, teaching in the public schools would be challenging, but I am also considering teaching in a charter or private school. It would be interesting to compare my experiences there to those of Frank McCourt in Teacher Man.
I guess the common idea between these two options is that I don't plan on teaching forever. One, or at most, two more years of teaching would be fun, but the past year and a half have reminded me of something I read...When your career starts to feel like a job, maybe it's time to reevaluate. I think that if I ever reach the point where I hate going to work, it will be time to change careers. Yes, teachers are needed, but teachers who want to be there are needed also. One of the saddest things is seeing teachers who have been there for twenty years, and are staying every year for a pay check.
Well, clearly the next few months I will be focused on making some big decisions. I've enjoyed teaching in the Delta and Jackson, but it's time to move on to a new part of my life. I've lived in Mississippi for 24 years now, and I'm ready to see what else the world has to offer. I hope to make a decision by the end of Christmas break...I will definitely have one made by Spring break.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

This post is just to give readers a realistic idea of the experiences of a teacher in Jackson Public Schools. I teach at Wingfield High in South Jackson, a school that has, according to others, changed drastically in the last several years. While I'll try to remain unbiased, here is an account of some of the events of the past three weeks that may seem a bit negative:
The Good
-we are starting a Sigma Beta Club. This is a younger brotherhood that my fraternity (Phi Beta Sigma) started in order to push community service, scholarship, and other positive ideas. I think this will have a big impact on several of my students.
-I got a Mexican student this week. He speaks very little English; this has motivated many of my students to learn Spanish. As for the new student, I will probably end up conducting the Spanish class in reverse for him (I will test for his knowledge of English terms).
-I've been making parent calls. For some students, this is really making a difference.
-I've sent letters home. Even if the letters don't make it home, some of the students are paying more attention to the fact that they are failing.
-Students are beginning to come to tutoring.
-Our administration seems pretty strong. For example, they usually suspend students for being late to class.
Now, for the Bad and Ugly
-a student was arrested for being in a stolen car.(off campus incident)
-the police arrested people at school two days in a row for fighting. Ambulances were also called both days (a student got hurt resisting arrest, and an officer got hurt in pursuit).
-there were about 6 fights in a 2-3 day period.
-a teacher was punched in the face.
-a teacher was hit in the face with an orange the next day.
-two students got felony drug charges after they were arrested for drinking beer in the parking lot at school.
-police (about 4-5 cars) are now at school at the beginning and end of everyday.
-a student defecated in the hall (yes, I'm serious). He then ran home.
- a student was seen hanging from a 2nd floor window over concrete. The student didn't fall.

Well, I hope this provides a picture of my experiences as a teacher in JPS. I definitely see what Sarah Degraaf went through at this school last year. While people have historically talked about West Side schools (Lanier and Provine), it appears that Wingfield is also battling some problems.

Thoughts on Quitting

We were asked about any thoughts of quitting we might have had during the first year. Personally, this has been an issue that I only entertained to a certain extent. When we signed up for MTC, we didn't sign up to benefit ourselves (hopefully everyone feels that way). Because we signed up to benefit others, thoughts of quitting always seemed like they would hurt others to me. We took up spots in a program that could have easily selected qualified people to fulfill the two year commitment. To me, the program (and agreement to teach 2 yrs) was a promise we made. Now while I've quit other programs that would have benefited me, I don't think I could seriously consider quitting MTC. Sure, I got frustrated with the classwork for Ole Miss and the issues I saw at the schools, but quitting clearly would not have been in the best interest of my students. I once had a coach at a basketball camp tell us, "If you sign up for something saying you're gonna be there, be there." That definitely applies here because we made a promise, one that we should all keep. I would never criticize those who have chosen to leave the program for different reasons, but I feel like except in the case of a serious emergency, I personally would never quit.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Career?

It takes a special person to become a teacher, and even a more special person to stay in the profession for a long time. I respect those people, because I question my future in education everyday. For anyone considering teaching who might be reading this, don't let me discourage you; I just feel that we should show all sides of what we experience as teachers. Many days I spend more time dealing with misbehavior than educating the students. I find myself constantly telling the students that I am trying to give them a key to the future. However, the end of each day brings questions to mind: Is this what teaching is like? Am I teaching? What would it be like in a district with less discipline problems? Is this the career for me?
I think the last question is one that many of us have at least from time to time. For me, the scariest thought is waking up one day as a twenty-year veteran teacher and realizing that I stayed in the profession because it was comfortable. I'm not saying I'll quit teaching after this year (in fact I'm 99% sure I'll be doing it somewhere next year), but I know that I'll definitely have a big decision to make in the next few years. I love children, but only time will tell if I love them enough to keep doing this.
In other news, I like being in MTC but I think like most other 2nd years, I'm counting the classes left. It's been a good program, but it's also been exhausting. I can't wait to have my Saturdays free next semester. Also, Saturdays next fall will be devoted solely to college football. I look forward to that relief after long days at school. Many people are planning more graduate school, law school, medical school, etc., after this, but I think I want to focus more on either staying in this field or going directly into another career. If I ever go back for another degree, it will be later in life. I think I've hidden out in school for long enough, it's time to see the world.

Motivating Students

Motivating students is an interesting subject, even though (especially because?) I have yet to master it. After dealing with students in my classrooms last year and this year so far, I think that you can be effective to a certain extent in motivating students. However, you also must realize that teaching isn't what you see in the "Dangerous Minds" or "Lean on Me" type movies.
My most effective way of motivating students hasn't been a secret. You just have to watch and learn about people's tendencies. For the most part, people want to know how something will work to benefit them in some way. Selfish, it may be, but if you watch others you'll probably notice this. I simply try to relate material (texts, exercises, etc.) to the real world and explain to students how they can use this in the future (college, good jobs, some will even want to learn for the sake of knowledge). I think the students appreciate the teacher's being straightforward with them. If you have students who can't stand when you talk about how the material will help in college, focus more on how the material can help them on the job. It's not so important where you make the's just important that you make the connect.
Now that I gave the Disney part, it's time for the other side. There is no magic way of motivating students. Last year in the Delta, I had that problem. This year in Jackson, I have that problem even worse. I just failed 91 of 139 students for the 1st nine weeks mostly because they chose not to work in class. A lot of them just didn't seem to care and didn't even try. I tried various times to appeal to their hopes for the future, but it's a struggle. I'm not gonna give up, but it's frustrating. Jackson is a city that seems to be going down the drain, and this is it's future. I chose to give averages of no lower than 50 in order to give students hope for next nine weeks. I don't won't them to give up on passing for the whole year. I explained the other day that they have a chance to have a fresh start. Motivation is probably one of the hardest parts of being and staying a teacher. Hopefully, time will teach me more effective ways of dealing with this.