April 30, 2009
Holly Springs, Mississippi
I have no desire to write this blog at this time. I am tired of school. I am tired of being a student. I am tired of teaching students. These feelings will pass, but today, when I am supposed to write this blog, that is how I feel. I’ve had one day off in the past 5 weeks, and good reflective writing requires a lot more than that, not just to do the writing but to be at peace and calm enough to reach the right brain. So in one sense this is a part of my MTC experience, putting most of my energy into teaching and leaving very little time to write.
I guess I could have written this blog before now, but today was the state test for Algebra I, a subject I teach. Writing about my MTC experience without waiting for the state test to happen is like writing about a college basketball team’s season before the NCAA tournament is played.
Last year I taught Algebra I and it was a horrible experience. I didn’t know much about what I was doing as a teacher. I was in front of a class for the first time. The students had been taught by several long-term subs in recent years, and the school (S.V. Marshall in Tchula) was a loud, violent, unhappy place. Even before I learned the scores, I suspected my students had done about as poorly as possible. As it turns out, I was almost right: only two other schools in the entire state of Mississippi had lower Algebra I test scores.
I hate to lose, so when I was assigned to teach Algebra I at my new school, H.W. Byers, I resolved to leave it all on court, so to speak. The final preparation kicked into full-on high gear 5 weeks ago, when we returned from Spring Break.
This morning I spent 4 hours proctoring 21 of my students as they tested. They worked harder than they have all year. They tried. For the past couple weeks I thought they were tuning out at the last moment, but as they tested I had an overwhelming sense that, despite all the crap and resistance they gave me during the year, somehow they came to believe that this test is important. Watching my students today, I understood better than ever what it means to motivate someone else, and it was a wonderful feeling to see so many frequently apathetic students scratching notes with furrowed brows.
Okay, so that’s out of the way. But I’m barely 35% done. Let’s see...
The first weeks of teaching school in August 2007 were the most intense period in my life -- beyond even basic training and first weeks of law school. I felt like I was stumbling through life, not sure if I could make it from one hour to the next. I was still doing those damn lesson plans, getting up early each morning to assemble a document I never really got to use.
I didn’t have a stove in my house in Belzoni, or a wash machine or dryer. I later found out that I didn’t have heat, either. The house was charming, romantic -- but also extreme and spartan. That wasn’t my least favorite part of living in the Delta, though; it was the long drives. 30 miles to is too far to drive to a store, especially when it’s WalMart.
I’m not sure I would have survived teaching in Mississippi if Angela and I had not started dating. She’s my best friend in the world. Having someone to share with -- little and big stuff -- has made all the difference. Angela laughs a lot, and I knew I’d found a keeper when I learned one of her favorite movies is Anchorman, or anything else starring Will Ferrell. She’s more extroverted than I am, and she makes me laugh. Although I usually disagree with her when she disagrees with me, she’s usually right. Our families are coming to graduation, and they will meet each other for the first time next weekend.
As for the rest of my class, MTC is the least racially diverse group I’ve been part of since I graduated from high school. I’m pretty sure that, as a general matter, a student of any skin color is better served by a great teacher, regardless of skin color, than by a substandard teacher of the student’s same skin color. But MTC is not aiming to send out substandard teachers. I think gender also matters, perhaps more than race. MTC has a good gender balance, but has a long way to go in terms of race. My class has suffered because it’s so strongly dominated by a white northern elite viewpoint. That’s not inherently bad, but there are many other ways to see the world.
I suffered more personally and specifically when J.S. decided to move back to Illinois instead of joining me to teach in Tchula. I like J.S. a lot, and it would have been great to have an ally in the building. But so it goes. Other people left MTC for other reasons, and though they are not graduating with us, I still think of them as classmates in a sense because they were part of the experience.
So, so, so. I’ll be sad when we finish portfolio day on Saturday, virtually certain never to gather as a full group again. A few of the cool things classmates shared with me:
- Anna finished things early, so I never had to worry about being the first one done with anything. She also demonstrated tremendous concentration during the Kansas-North Carolina Final Four game in 2008: while Austin sunk into the sofa and took consolation in drink, and Pete ate a pizza or two, Anna sat on the floor, working on some project for our education and technology class.
- Austin took me shooting on a bridge after a conference in October 2007, at a time when I very much needed to be breathing crisp air and making loud noises.
- Carrie provided the best counterpoints during class discussions, framing things simply in ways I’d never considered. She also gave me a ride back to Oxford in her new car on a day I really really really didn’t want to ride the bus.
- Chimaobi stayed at my place for a few days in August 2007 and met me for fried catfish several times after that, most recently in April 2009. Varsity all the way!
- Crystal introduced me to the killer breakfast sandwiches at Short Stop in Holly Springs by writing about them in a blog. She also waves at me around town, most recently this afternoon. It’s hard to overstate how cool it is to have someone drive by and shout my name out an open car window.
- Dan asked me, in March or April 2008, if Angela I and were dating. By that time we’d been open about it for several months. When I said yes, he muttered that he’s always the last to know. I think that’s probably true.
- Dani called me at the end of a really bad day in April 2008 and told me there was a math opening at Byers. For the past month she voluntarily gave up her planning period to tutor students preparing to take the Algebra I state test.
- Eleanor showed me by example during summer school 2008 how to carry three books, a stack of papers, a large purse and a larger cup of coffee, and have it look like that’s exactly the way life is supposed to be.
- Heather made my week (my month?) when she wrote that she was coming back into MTC. When we first started, she and Eleanor and I worked on a project for D.Bauer’s class. Listening to Heather’s ideas and seeing her preparation dispelled any thoughts I had that I might one day become a master teacher.
- Kelsey talked to me about photography at the state basketball tournament in February 2009. We talked about a magazine spread we’d both seen. It made my day.
- Lisa calmed me down during the first year, when I went to Leland all worked up. Just watching Lisa serenely planning a lesson or grading papers was enough.
- Michele let me wash my clothes at her house several times last year and saved me from being the oldest member of the class.
- Molly refrained from jumping into the river the last two years after bad Duke losses in the NCAA tournament. She also put together a party last summer with more pizza than I’ve ever seen in my life. There was also a large knife, and some watermelon. What could go wrong?
- Pete let me shave his head when we were living at Campus Walk. Last year, when my students were talking about their backroom barber shop, I knew what they meant. I just hoped they didn’t have clients as crazy as Pete.
- Peter spent the last week of summer training in 2007 editing Run Angela Run, the movie he and I and Angela and Tabitha did when we had better things to do. The film was on YouTube for a while, until Angela’s students found it. Peter did a great job and should go to film school if the law doesn’t turn out.
- Rob wrote the coolest blogs in our class, hands down. Just my opinion. Someday I’ll buy his book for all my friends and tell them about this guy I went to school with.
- Robin didn’t say much for the first few weeks she was in class with us, but once she started talking, people around her didn’t stop laughing.
- Tabitha makes every story great by going from zero to sixty and back down in the shortest of times. When Tabitha is telling about something, great excitement is always right around the corner.
- Sam H. coached a football team that kicked my team’s butt -- twice. His dog sniffed me a lot, sometimes in places I didn’t want sniffed.
- Sam W. founded MVC, which I never joined but it inspires me to know such an organization exists.
- Scotty gave me inspiration to buy a seersucker suit just as soon as I have a better-paying job.
Another part of my community this year has been a dog. One night last August, I noticed a dog in the far corner of my porch when I got home from football practice. The dog was there next morning, and the next night, and the morning after that. In the evening of the second day, Angela acknowledged the dog. It growled at her. On the evening of the third day, I threw it a pizza crust, and the rest has been history. The dog’s name is Gopher, and she’s here to stay. We had to build a pen to keep her away from the dog-catcher, and after a couple months I found an opening in the pen that she had been using to escape to an adjacent yard. The thing is, she used the same opening to come back into my yard. I’ve never heard of something that screwy in my whole life.