Monday, June 26, 2006

Reflection of Summer School 2006

Summer school has been a tiring experience. Even though I haven’t taught much of this session, just going to Holly Springs requires a good bit of energy. I’ve tried to use the time to work on my online assignments, but I have to admit, I’ll be glad when this week is over. I can’t wait for the summer break.
I think the Holly Springs summer school idea was a good one, but it seems to benefit the Holly Springs/Marshall County students and 1st years in MTC a lot more than the 2nd years. I’m not saying everything is negative, it’s just that sometimes I feel like I’m getting dressed (professional dress) to leave Oxford at 6:45—only to sit around when I get to Holly Springs High School. I don’t really know of many solutions to the problem, but it just seems like I could be using this month more effectively.
It feels like we’re about to enter the final stretch of MTC. We only have one more semester of classes (and a materials portfolio), and we will have an M.A.! I think most of the 2nd years are excited that this month and our coursework are both almost done.
With a few adjustments, the summer school program at Holly Springs looks promising. However, I have been very disappointed with the online class we are taking. We basically read chapters from a book, summarize them, and participate in a message board. The message board is a good idea, but the rest of the work feels like busy work. Maybe in the future the program could work on this class. It hasn’t been as beneficial as I hoped.
I usually try to focus on the positive, but I feel that it is necessary to also acknowledge the negative aspects of the program. In this case, summer school has had both benefits and negative characteristics. Given the nature of MTC, I feel confident that the program will mold itself in the future to benefit all of those involved. With this summer being a totally new addition to the program (both summer school at HSHS and an online course for 2nd years), I think things went okay. It wasn’t perfect, but provides a good basis for the program’s future. I look forward to seeing how the program evolves over the next 12 months.

Ridgeland vs. Jackson

I thought it would be appropriate to discuss what has been an issue over which I’m torn. I’m teaching in South Jackson this year, but I decided to live in Ridgeland (Madison County). To many people, this probably wouldn’t matter, but it seems to present a dilemma to me. As teachers, we need to be able to relate to our students and the problems they go through. Ridgeland, which is about 25 minutes away from Wingfield High School, is the total opposite of South Jackson. The schools in Madison County are some of the best in the state, and they include a virtually new Ridgeland High School. Ridgeland is one of the richer areas of the state, but inner-city Jackson students will have a lot more poverty.
I feel guilty about living in an area that differs vastly from where I will be teaching. One part of me questions whether that makes me a sellout, while the other says there’s nothing wrong with providing the best for yourself. The area I live in appears to be mostly white, while Wingfield is 95 % African American. I’m not sure what effects/insight that will produce when I enter the classroom.
Being optimistic about the possibilities, I hope to create some type of connection between my school and one from Madison County (hopefully Ridgeland High School). I think it would be beneficial to students from both schools to create some kind of dialogue. If they can begin to relate to each other inside the classroom, they will be more prepared for an increasingly diverse city, state, and nation. Maybe our Spanish club could meet with theirs for special events. I think it would be exciting for both students and teachers.
I think I’m actually more excited this year than I was this time last year. It’s probably because the Jackson area is a lot bigger than any cities I’ve ever lived in. I imagine that the students will have some of the same problems as in the Delta, but I know some will probably be different. It will be hard identifying with students from a bigger city, but I can’t wait to try.

Wingfield Bound

Monday I visited my new high school, and I got a chance to meet the new principal and assistant principal. They told me that they both came to the school two years ago as assistant principals, and that one of them is now taking over as the principal. The first thing I thought when I saw them was, “Man, they’re young!” Guessing, I don’t think either of them could be more than 33 or 34. They were able to tell me a lot of information about the school and what I can expect. The school has about 1200 students (it’s only built to hold 800) and is about 95 percent African American. They said my classes should average around 20-25 students (I’m still wondering if they just told me that to make sure I signed the dotted line). Anyway, the school appears to be a typical inner-city school, and I look forward to seeing it full of students. I think it will be very crowded, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Also, I got the chance to go inside my new classroom, which is a portable one. Even though I’ll be teaching behind the school (along with probably 8 other teachers in portables), I think it will be good for my Spanish classes. Hopefully, I can create an atmosphere similar to a mini-world of Spanish. I think it’ll be the perfect opportunity, and I’ll have a little more freedom out there.
As far as the environment of the whole Wingfield area, I don’t really know what to expect. The school is located in South (Southwest?) Jackson, which is not the best area of town, but also not as bad as West Jackson. Either way, crime in Jackson is apparently pretty bad right now. The mayor is issuing a state of civil emergency today, and setting a curfew of 8 p.m. for minors (10 p.m. on weekends). I will definitely be aware of my surroundings when I move to Jackson.
As a whole, I’m excited about the coming year and the possibilities it brings. I expect challenges, but I also expect to have many successes. I taught in the critical-needs area of the Delta, and now I’m ready to face inner-city Jackson.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Online Course

Right now, we're taking an online course as a part of our 2nd year MTC requirements. I thought the class would be one showing us how to use various forms of technology, but apparently it's not. The class basically discusses ways of reaching our students, and ways of helping them to become effective learners. The class is better than what I initially expected, but it sometimes feels like busy-work. The book we are reading has some interesting points, but it also has quite a few boring parts. It's good that we are becoming more effective teachers, but I expected to learn more about using technology (with a hands-on approach). At the end of the course (and our other course), we are expected to come up with a multimedia project. It seems weird that we are not really receiving a whole lot of instruction on how to use the programs to do that.
In addition, the class was split into two sections, one for one-month workers, and the other for two-month workers. I chose the first option, and I'm glad I did, even though it requires more work right now. I would hate to still be working on these assignments during July.
I like the discussion board we use, and maybe the program will eventually replace the blogs with them ( it seems more effective for us as teachers). The class has some benefits, but I think we're all just tired from working both months last summer, having a full school year, and doing more work now. Oh well, you only have to do it once, right?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Thoughts on Corporal Punishment—A 2nd Year’s Perspective

There are basically two groups of people when it comes to punishment in education. While there is some room for a gray area, people tend to be either totally for or totally against corporal punishment. Many northerners enter MTC and are shocked that it still exists in Mississippi. For my readers who don’t know, there is a basic rule of thumb for corporal punishment in critical-needs Mississippi—1) corporal punishment is against the rules in Jackson Public Schools, and 2) corporal punishment is alive and well in the Delta.
When I entered the program, I was in the group of people who opposed corporal punishment. I didn’t feel that we as teachers could justify hitting a child and then try to tell him/her not to hit others. I believed that corporal punishment only perpetuated the violence in our classrooms that we complained about. A year later, I am still against corporal punishment, but in a different way. I hate its existence, but also the way it is typically administered. Example—Theory: the law says that the school official is not supposed to give corporal punishment in a fit of anger. Reality: One of the last days of school at Simmons, the principal was angry and lashed out at students and teachers over the intercom. At the end of his yelling, he said, “Whoever has x, y, and z students in their class, send them to the office! I’m gone tear they butt up!” He really did mean what he was saying. Not to criticize the principal personally, but is this really what we want in our schools? This may be an extreme example, but I think it highlights a valid point.
Even if we look outside the way corporal punishment is administered, I still think it is wrong. I understand that because of culture in the communities and traditional practice of corporal punishment in Mississippi schools, there is no overnight fix. Right now, students and parents expect it. I think, however, that we can and should phase it out over the next year or two.

The Biggest Challenge of My 1st Year in MTC

There were many challenges in my first year of the Mississippi Teacher Corps, but the biggest challenge was being a student as well as a teacher. Many times assignments were done the Friday night before class because I didn’t have the chance to sit down and do them until then. Although class was only every other Saturday, I seemed to be constantly on my way back to Oxford. Because I had to do assignments on Friday nights (sometimes after football games), I drove over two hours to be in class at 8:30 Saturday morning. The program seemed pretty straightforward last summer, and I didn’t think Saturday classes during the fall and spring would be too difficult. However, it took everything in me to force myself to do assignments and drive to Oxford. It sometimes felt like I didn’t get a break.
Being a part of MTC, you have to remember that you are a teacher and a graduate student. I feel like sometimes my lessons suffered because of the assignments for my classes at Ole Miss. For example, the day before our midterm in the Legal Education class, I basically gave my students busy work so that I could finish cramming for the exam. It worked (I got a 97!), but I still feel bad because that is one more day I could have devoted to educating my students.
This year I plan to do my assignments ahead of time, but we’ll see what happens. How do I make time for my assignments? Let’s be realistic—we’re taking 6 credit hours, only one class short of being full-time graduate students. In order to not procrastinate, it will probably be best to set aside a time (maybe Sunday afternoons) to work on assignments. I’m not sure if I will stick to this schedule, but even if I don’t, it will be my last semester of classes. Like my dad always told me, “You only have to do this once.”

Five Pieces of Advice

There are several pieces of advice that I have to offer the incoming first-years. Although I am by no means an expert on being a teacher, I think I have learned a lot this year. These tips won’t make you a perfect teacher, but they will make your stay here more productive and enjoyable.
1) Be flexible. In the critical-needs school districts where we work (and probably all schools), you have to be able to adapt to your administrators’ desires. Sometimes you can think of more efficient ways of handling matters, but guess what…it doesn’t matter. The principal always gets what he/she wants, and if you make the administration mad, you will probably have a less enjoyable year.
2) Be patient. When working with students, you will get frustrated with their childish behaviors. However, it is your job to deal with this in an appropriate and professional manner. Students always said to me, “I can’t stand you, Mr. Thompson, because you never get mad!” I loved it because I kept the upper hand. If a student gets you visibly mad, they have succeeded in disrupting your lesson.
3) Be an individual. There is no mold for the Successful Teacher in America. It’s okay to expose the class to your interests; in fact, it will probably expose them to a new world. Don’t feel like you have to fit in with the other teachers at your school (MTC or traditional). We are not trying to create students who are clones, so we shouldn’t present ourselves that way. Your individuality is one of the most important things you bring to the classroom.
4) Document everything (neatly). I made the mistake of not doing this last year. It didn’t catch up with me, but it could have. Make note of all parent meetings, referrals, absences, ISS, etc.
5) Have fun! If you’re not having fun at school, you’re probably in the wrong profession. This should be a passion, not just a job. Remember that you chose to do this, nobody forced you to participate. Make your career your source of fun.