Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Life After Teacher Corp

I moved clear across the state of Mississippi to teach. I went from the western most part of Highway 82 to the eastern most part of Highway 82. According to the rumors, the place that I was going to teach at this year was horrible. Fights, Pregnancies, Overage kids, STDs, and an out of control district, I thought, I taught in Hollandale, nothing could be worse. After a year in my new district I can confidently state, “If I had kids, they would go to this school.” Four years ago my new district got a new superintendent, who in turned fired all of the principals and assistant principals. He hired assistant principals from across the state who were at level 5 schools. These assistant principals are now the principals and assistant principals in the district.

My school is awesome. My principal is awesome. We have 85% free and reduced lunch, 20% of the district is white, the majority of my students parents work, and dad is a real person. Now, I do have kids whose parents are in jail, parents who work nights and leave the kids to raise themselves, or the always present older siblings who do nothing put hang out on the corner. Things are not perfect by any means, but there are many great things going on. My school is run the way my middle school was run. It is great, no longer do I have to worry about being backed up on discipline, when the bell is going to ring, having to hear coworkers completely humiliate and degrade a child, being thought of as an outsider because I believe lying, cheating, and stealing is wrong. Did I also mention that not one of the 270 students in seventh grade was a parent? Amazing, I taught 3 parents last year. Furthermore, I do not have to worry about overage kids because they are in their own little world, transitions, trying to make it to high school.

I can’t wait for the day when the Delta stops feeling sorry for it self and says, “Enough is enough, we are not going to let the bottom of the barrel run our schools.” Did I mention that my principal is black, along with 60% of my coworkers, and I have not been made to feel guilty just because I am white. Life is great outside of the Delta.

The Greatest Compliment To Date

Yesterday, the day before the last day of school, I was entertaining ridiculous questions from a harmless drama queen. I know I am not supposed to say this but I get a laugh out of egging her on. During the course of our conversation the student sitting next to her chimed in, out of nowhere and said, “Mr. Z., you are the only teacher all year who has not hollered at us.” This was a surprise because the harmless drama queen was complaining about her exam and I was giving my usual responses of “Do your best” or “Figure it out.” The student, who interrupted us, is one who constantly disrupts class by making noises and singing. It gets even better, when I confront him he says, “It wasn’t me!!!” He inevitably receives at least one writing assignment a week from me. I am still in awe of the kid because I never backed down from him and he always received a writing assignment for his disruptive behavior. My response to his original statement was “What’s the point?” referring to hollering. He thought I meant, “Why are you telling me this.” He responded, “Really, you are the only teacher, all year, who has not hollered at us.” I replied, “What’s the point of hollering?” The harmless queen chimes in, “He doesn’t need to, he does what he says he going to do.”

Monday, September 08, 2008

Life outside of the Delta

During the month of June I worked on a plantation in the heart of the Delta. For 110 years the plantation planted cotton exclusively. Due to recent economic conditions the plantation has planted corn and beans for the past two years. My job on the plantation was to lay poly pipe (irrigation), chainsaw, help in the birthing process of calves, and whatever else my hands hands were called to do. It is an experience that I will never forget.

On July 4th the wife and I moved to Columbus, MS. Home of the first memorial day to celebrate the fallen heroes of the confederacy. The move was bitter sweet. We loved our church and town. Our church family was such a blessing, the men taught me how to hunt and gave me a godly example of what it means to be a husband. They were our family. It has been two months and four days since the move and we are never going back.

Lauren accepted a position at the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science, the best teaching job in the state, and I teach in West Point, MS. Lauren spends her school nights planning for her Algebra II, Trigonometry, and Pre Calculus classes, while I reignite my passion for weight lifting and video games. I teach six periods of seventh grade Information and Communication Technology I. ICT I is glorified typing. Yes, I spent four years at Rhodes to teach typing.

Our jobs are awesome. Lauren teaches the best kids in the state and I teach kids who have two parents at home who work. Lauren has no discipline issues at her school and my discipline issues are handled swiftly and firmly.

We loved our time in the Delta but realize that our quality of life has improved dramatically by moving further away from the Arkansas border.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My MTC experience is not typical of other MTC alumni. I came into the program as an established member of the Delta community. I was going to enter my classroom not having to worry about housing, roommates, the culture of the Delta, or who my new coworkers were going to be because my wife had already been at the school for three years. The biggest challenge that I faced in my first year of teaching was judgments made about me by my principal before I ever stepped into the classroom. I had an interview at my wife’s school when I learned that I was accepted into Teacher Corp. During my interview lesson I made a reference to the game “Monkey in the Middle.” At the time I thought nothing of it. It was not until the end of the first nine weeks at school during my first year that the principal asked if I was racist. She asked if I ever called the kids monkeys or used the term Monkey in the Middle around the kids. I was in shock, at the time I had no idea what she was talking about. She informed me that I had complaints against me for being a racist and that the term “Monkey” is a derogatory term against African Americans. I then told her it was a game that I learned in elementary school, a school that was over 95% African American. There was nothing that I could say that day to make the situation any better. My Principal had already written me off for the year even before I stepped onto the campus. The first year was rough, not management wise, but in every other aspect. The kids felt as if I hated them, the principal thought I was racist, I knew my subject matter but I really didn’t know it, my lessons were terrible, and I did not feel as if I belonged in the school. Did I mention that I also paddled two kids that year? That was a surreal experience.

The second summer of Mississippi Teacher Corp was ten times better than the first summer. Not only was it a month shorter but the fellowship among the Corp was a welcome change to the disjointedness of my school. My school has only ten teachers. We are so close to becoming an ideal school yet so far from it because of lack of cohesiveness and differing standards when it comes to learning and the kids. The Holly Springs experience showed what a functioning school could be.

By far the most rewarding experiences of my Teacher Corp career have come in the second year. The Ole Miss Coursework became more manageable because I finally learned how to use my time more effectively. I coached football for the first time and the experience was eye opening. It was amazing to see kids actively disobey, get kicked off the team, then have their moms or grandmas plead to the Athletic director and or principal to get the kid back on the team when they did not want to be on the team to begin with. Furthermore the boys believed if they showed up to a game they would win. They honestly believe that wins will be handed to you. It is amazing to see how handouts kill the idea of a strong work ethic. Coaching also turned me into a man who was seen as a racist to someone who is an accepted member of the school. Just as the football season ended hunting season began. Last year I never went hunting after school. I cannot remember why not. This year, if the weather was cooperating, I was in the woods everyday after school. It was great. Each day I had a new hunting story to share in class; many students could not wait to hear the successes and failures of my adventures. I was able to share a piece of myself with them.

This spring semester brought on the challenge of working with the Technology Student Association. My role was to work with a few boys to help them build balsa wood gliders and dragsters. At times it was tedious but overall I was able to bond with some boys who I would otherwise not have the chance to interact with on a one on one basis.

Without going through Mississippi Teacher Corp I would not be able to truly understand what generational poverty is. Last year when a kid would clown in class I had no sympathy. Now that I know my kids a hundred times better, when they do clown I can actually find out what is going on inside of them. Most times the problems stem from something that is associated with poverty. Problems ranging from being grown, shame of dirty clothes and or body, shame of family reputation, sexual exploration and or promiscuity, and to something as simple as constant paranoia of being picked on. Poverty is a depilating illness with no easy solution.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tough Times

About a month ago the students seemed to be off. It was not until third period that I found out from a co worker that a young person(20 years old) committed suicide the night before on his girlfriends porch. He shot himself. The girlfriends two younger brothers attend my school. The average response time for a ambulance is around 15 to 20 minutes and they live on a cul-de-sac with many school age children. We can only imagine how many students saw the aftermath.

Yesterday, a parent died for a set of twins at our school. The twins are some of the best students to have in your class. I felt so sad.

This morning a coworker informed me that a young person(20 years old) died last night when he lost control of his car and went into Deer Creek. The young person has a little sister who attends my school.

It is hard to describe the confusion and grieve in the student's eyes.

Friday, March 07, 2008

"Spring time in the Delta"

Before you leave the Delta for good there are a few things that you must do.

1. Attend the Crawfish festival in Leland. Admission is two canned goods. The beer is cold and the crawfish is awesome. Plus the music is great.
2. Attend the Catfish festival in Belzoni. I plan on going for the first time this year. I hear it is the same as the Crawfish festival but with Catfish.
3. The Blues Jam at the Holly Ridge Store. The jam happens the day after the Leland Blues Festival. It is free and the crowd is interesting. Last year I saw my first Black Biker Gang.
4. Turkey Hunt if at possible or go skeet shooting.
5. Go to Great River Road State Park in Rosedale to play frisbee golf. Their course is awesome.
6. Tour Antebellum homes in Vicksburg. I plan on going for the year for the first time.

Monday, March 03, 2008

When did it turn sour?

About four weeks ago a couple of boys were rough housing in the bathroom. A coworker demanded that I write a referral, so I did. The four boys were suspended for three days. The four boys have me at the same time for history and computers. When they came back their attitudes were awful, before the referral they were my favorite class. Then one of the four received 5 days suspension the week he came back from the 3 day suspension. He was running around campus like a mad man, I had no choice but to write a referral. The entire attitude of the class worsens. Then two weeks ago the leader of the class, who is one of the original four, received a three day suspension because of a culmination of minor behavioral infractions(demerits), to be honest it was because of the demerits that I turned in on him daily because of his sagging pants. When he came back his sour attitude spread like wildfire and now the class periods that I have with him and his classmates are so sad, because a month ago I looked forward to them coming to my room.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Opening line from channel 6's 10 o'clock broadcast on March 1, 2008.

"Four people are in critical positions after a gun man opens fires on a crowds of people."

Possible the funniest thing that I have ever heard.