Saturday, May 05, 2007

"The MTC Experience"

My MTC Experience
The last two years have been the most challenging and rewarding in my life. Entering the teacher corps was a well-thought-out decision that I embarked upon with excitement and a commitment to make a difference in the lives on Mississippi school children. I feel that I have made a difference in the lives of my students. I imagined this experience was going to be quite glamorous and beautiful, but in reality it was messy and a lot of hard work. In trying to express this experience into words, I am awed by how difficult it is to measure my success and to put into a narrative form the last two years. What was successful about my experience? How do I explain my influence or how I have made a difference in the classroom? Was it improving my students’ test scores? Was it treating students with respect that they do not ordinarily receive from adults? Was it listening to their problems when they cried? What was it that made the pain and the hard work worth it? If I imagine a montage of the moments, in which I know (and knew at the time) I made a difference, I can see the beauty of my MTC experience. The montage would go something like this….

-Listening to speeches on how we can change the world that had such eloquence and humility. I wondered at how middle school students could have such a wonderful understanding of socialism.

-Reading the journal of one of my 6th grade students as she explained why she decided to keep her baby. She wrote, “I don’t have no love in my life. My dad don’t love me. My mom don’t love me. But I is going to love my baby.” I wrote in the margins, “I love you, Kamilla…”

-Talking to Donte during after-school detention about what he was going to be when he grew-up and looking at colleges online.

-Students filling out applications to Harvard and Yale and then giving them acceptance letters to their chosen school.

-Mailing 80 letters for my “Friendly Letter” project and hearing students talk about receiving the letters in the mail.

-Talking Robert out of using a knife he brought to school to prove his honor to older students.

-Waving to a former student and seeing a huge smile spread across his face.

-Receiving hugs after being sick with pneumonia for three days.

-Taking a step backwards after a review game and watching my students attack a test with confidence and a sense of purpose that only comes with preparation.

-Telling students about my trip to Africa and giving a Malian necklace to all my students at Christmas break. Seeing these necklaces on students for the rest of the year.

-Listening to an administrator be shocked (“They are so organized”) at how well my students’ writing was during the state writing assessment. Reading the letters they wrote to the principal during the test. Hearing from other teachers how well they wrote during the assessment.

-Writing letters of recommendations for gifted students.

-Consoling Jakante after he learned that his father was going to jail for the rest of his life for murder. Giving him a hug as he cried.

-Suggesting a science and math camp in Atlanta for a J’lissia and listening to her tell me the news that she won a scholarship to the camp.

-Looking at my students’ MCT scores and realizing that 80 percent scored proficient-- compared to the 35 percent that were proficient when they entered.

- Telling students to “unpop” their collars and making other rap references to an unsuspecting audience of 6th and 7th graders.

-Reading student essays on what they had learned this year.

-Using sports metaphors to my student athletes and watching their faces fill with delight because I had seen them in the game the night before.

-The rowdy class discussions on race, politics, and any subject that strikes middle school students as interesting.

-The competitive review jeopardy games that ended in a tie (when the prize was only leaving class first.)

-Every student who smiled while learning something.

I could continue with my montage, but I think those are the highlights. Those are the moments that seemed to make the hard work worth it. Whenever I was ready to call it quits or whenever I just could not take the stress anymore, I would win a moment from my students. For a few minutes, I was on top on the world and I would easily forget about grading papers, sitting in useless faculty meetings, lesson plans, running to Wal-Mart at midnight to prepare for the next day, negative teachers, unintelligent administrators, and living in Mississippi. I know that nostalgia will kick in when I remember my MTC experience and I will remember only the good moments. The moments when I knew for certain that I had made the right decision to come to Mississippi to teach.