Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I just witnessed my first PTA meeting in Mississippi. It was a mixture of agendas and moods. It was a nice celebration for the kids. Our band really rocks! The band director is quite superb. He is militant and demands a lot from the kids-- a great teacher. For the first time in my life, I am seeing students cheer the musicians. I wish that spirit had been alive while I was in school-- instead band and choir nerds were usually tortured. Watching the whole "show" of students being introduced and for once recognized for their accomplishments. I think this is a missed area of concern for low income students. We never showcase our students and their successes. If students had more opportunities to DO things (sports, etc.) they would have more to occupy their minds. I cannot believe that students have to try-out for middle school level sports. I really wish that they had a "B" squad for the students at the middle school age. When I was growing up-- sports and other activities were a given. Almost every student had some area of interest and/or talent. The few that did not have a place were the "at risk" students who dropped out or failed. There are 950 students at my school. Only about 100 of them participate in some form of activity. The rest are "at risk!" Why or why can't we offer more to the students? It is such a disservice. No wonder they vandalize the school, don't care about grades or much of anything-- they don't have ANY outlets for their minds and bodies. After-school activities would not be a hard change for schools to make. Funding may be somewhat of an issue. But on a district level-- it would work. JPS spends thousands of useless things and programs. Why not invest in meaningful after school activities the students would just enjoy? They might actually start to care about the school...

I remember when my students took their pictures-- most appeared shy and inexperienced to have the photographer tell them to smile and sit up straight. Their pictures revealed a hopelessness I have never seen in children this age before. Why? Because they don't have enough to do, and have never been acknowledged for their talents and strengths.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

That's It!

Strangely enough I didn't think about quitting until after Christmas break. During the first half of the year, I was so overwhelmed that I didn't really have time to think or do much of anything except try to survive. I don't know why it never occurred to me that quitting was really even an option. Some weird childhood lesson must have lingered in me. The second half of the year is where I lost hope. I tried so many different ideas, tricks, and strategies and part of me felt as if things had gotten worse. We had a different principal (even worse than the first one) and it was like starting over with the students. They had gotten away with too many things at the start of the year and with "fresh" meat to test and try they really starting running the school. All of those things aside, working and living in the Delta is quite depressing. I started to doubt that I was going to make this work, I regretted ever coming to Mississippi, and I really resented being treated horribly by students and "some" of the teachers and town members. Every time I thought I couldn't take it anymore, I watched the TFA promo video-- about the critical need for teachers and the desperation of students and I would cry and whine and get back to work. The worst part about being in a tough situation is you think you can overcome and "win." But when you grade a test in less than 50 percent pass, or have an unsuccessful lesson because there is a ___________ (pep rally, assembly, or any other nonsensical thing) you BLAME yourself.

Perhaps this is just my personality, but I thought it was a personal weakness that prompted my feelings of wanting to run away. It was an awful way to feel, and the only way out of it was to keep trying and keep keepin on. One thing that kept me from going was actually the other 6th grade language arts teacher-- she was terrible (and wasn't certified, etc.) I know it is a terrible thing to think, but, well, I told myself that "at least my students are learning something, at least I want and KNOW they can learn, at least I know my subject area, at least I can speak correctly, at least I do not physically beat them to make them behave, at least I am TRYING!" I know this is not a healthy way of thinking and it is pretty dirty-- however, imagine the substitute your students will get after you leave-- I guarantee the thoughts of leaving will vanish.

My advice to first years who are struggling-- it is okay and natural, do your best and DO not think less of yourself if your classroom isn't perfect. Of course don't accept things as they are-- it is your job to lead your students and to help them learn. But learning how to teach takes so much time and you only have to go through your first year once. If you leave your ego at the door, and throw your hands in and get messy, make mistakes, screw-up, and try until you find out what kind of teacher your students need for them to learn-- it will get easier and easier to do what you came here to do. Your students need you, and they will appreciate you (even if you think they hate you...).