Thursday, April 17, 2008


I consider my MTC experience to be a two-year stop on my journey to …….. somewhere. Unlike many people my age, I still don’t know exactly what my niche is or how I am supposed to contribute to the community in the long run. However, I think my experience teaching is part of my preparation for whatever it is that I am supposed to do somewhere down the line.

My perspectives about teaching evolved as time went by. I started out excited about teaching, energetic, and wondering if perhaps this would be my career for life. While I genuinely enjoyed the first few months of teaching, it did not take long for me to realize that I would not be a teacher for more than the two years to which I committed. Several things contributed to this conclusion. 1) Too many students do not value education, and it’s like the teacher has to battle them to get them to learn anything. I don’t have patience for that. 2) The students have been trained to expect something for nothing and do not understand the concept of EARNING what they get. This feeling of entitlement is part of the downfall of our community. 3) I think too much emphasis in school systems is placed on trivial matters that have little to do with whether our schools are actually preparing our students for life (e.g., state test scores). I feel that in many ways teachers are required and expected to do things that do not contribute to the bottom line – equipping students with an education that will help them succeed in the workforce and/or in college. All this reviewing for the test, and the practice test, and the test to practice for the practice test leaves little time for teaching, learning, and mastery.

What is the most important thing I have learned? My MTC experience has taught me more about my community than I ever wanted to know. Perhaps I was just refusing to look, but prior to teaching, I didn’t have a good idea about the warped mentality of the young people (including many of the parents) in the community. I didn’t know the extent to which the culture of the community needs to be changed, somehow. While there are some noble qualities that are a positive part of the culture such as loyalty, there are SO many community “values” that need to be abandoned altogether and replaced with traditional qualities such as discipline, self-respect, respect for others, especially older people, pride, etc. For example, the students place so much emphasis on fashion that they are willing to work numerous hours per week so that they can buy the latest fashion trends, name brand clothes, and Jordans. Yet, they claim they can’t buy a ten dollar calculator for math class. If we don’t find some way to teach ALL our kids about the different between items that appreciate and those that depreciate, and how collecting every Jordan is not a way to accumulate wealth, I am going to scream. Could we PLEASE try to find a way to give them an understanding of investment and delayed gratification. Guess what students, if you buy a calculator today, do well in math (and other classes, ACT, etc.), you may be able to get a scholarship that is worth tens of thousands of times more than some Jordans!!

So we say that the issue is one of poverty. I agree. But, poverty has not always meant a lack of value for education. In the fifties and sixties, many black people lived in poverty situations in rural and urban areas. Although many parents didn’t have education themselves, they valued it and instilled that value of education into their children. My parents, aunts, and uncles were such students – reared by parents who did not graduate from high school but yet pushed their children to do what they could not themselves do. So, while poverty is an issue, apparently the culture of poverty today is markedly different than the culture of poverty decades ago. So how do we get back to our old values, despite poverty?

Perhaps one of my most enjoyable experiences as a teacher was serving as an assistant basketball coach last year. I love the game of basketball and enjoyed being around it and the players. Through extracurricular activities, teachers have the opportunity to be around students in a nonacademic setting which allows the students to see that the teachers are just people too. It’s amazing how students’ attitudes towards a class improve just by virtue of the students feeling that they can somehow relate to the teacher.

Also, I find that sports is one of the few areas where discipline is emphasized. For example, basketball players are expected to run plays, execute the coach's directions, and not just randomly run around the court and shoot from half court. There is a certain degree of discipline that is expected. In the classroom, on the other hand, it is almost as if we are sending the message to students that they aren’t expected to demonstrate discipline in class. Oh, the students can’t sit and be quiet in class for 90 minutes. We need to move them around and play games with them to break the monotony. While of course I do understand that sentiment a little, at the same time, I don’t think we are setting high enough expectations. The above type of thinking is part of the reason 16 year-olds act like they are too fidgety to sit down and be quiet in church for two hours, and college freshmen are getting kicked out of classes because they are talking while a professor is lecturing (yes, this happens). We have fostered an environment where many students feel like they are incapable of exercising discipline, or that it is not required or expected of them. This is detrimental to our kids in the long run.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the main token of information that I will take from this experience is that the bulk of the work that needs to be done to improve education in high poverty areas must be done in the community, not in the school buildings. Of course there are many things to do within the schools to improve public education, but those things will have little effect if the students are not motivated to learn and don’t want to learn. Until our parents and students look at education as they did decades before – as an opportunity that has not always been available to black people and one that is too important to take for granted--we will continue to have high drop out rates, high school graduates that can barely read, and high school graduates that are ill-equipped for the workforce or college of any kind. This is what I’ll take with me to my next stop, whatever it may be. And perhaps one day I’ll be able to affect education from outside the school building; just because I am leaving the building doesn’t mean I will forget about it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I went to school Tuesday while sick (because the district will dock your pay if you miss a day following a holiday, unless you have a doctor's excuse--I think). The students informed me that I should not have come to school to spread my germs everywhere and insisted that I needed to go home and focus on getting well. In fact, one student told me that she was going to tell the administrators that I needed to go home because I might have T.B.! (I do NOT have T.B.) They told me that I should take yesterday and today off, and I decided that their suggestion wasn't a bad idea.

I must say though, taking a sick day when you're actually sick is no fun at all. I spent most of yesterday coughing and sleeping and wondering if my students were terrorizing the substitute. I learned from one of the teachers that my students, who have been complaining that I need to occasionally miss a day, actually complained that I picked a bad day to miss because so many of the students were pulled from class for one reason or another. Well, excuse me for being sick on a day that was not convenient to my spoiled students.

At six o'clock this morning, with me still coughing and my voice still too weak to actually teach, I decided that I would rest another day. Hopefully I'll feel well enough to go to work tomorrow. Hopefully my voice will have returned. And hopefully the next time I take a sick day it'll be of the "mental health" variety - you know, those days where I am physically well and actually able to somewhat enjoy the day.


I recognized one of my students as one of the brighter ones in my math class near the beginning of the school year. She would occasionally miss days of school, but when she did attend class, she caught on very quickly and always outperformed most of the students who had been there every day. For the most part, she turned in her homework assignments, and unlike most of my students, her homework assignments were relatively accurate. She made a high B during the first term.

During the second term, the student began to miss many more days of school. Because the material was getting more complicated, when she did come to class, she was lost and unable to make up for the days missed. She began to put her head down in class and seemed to have become very uninterested in what was going on. I discovered that she was doing the same thing in other classes and that part of the reason was that she had gotten a part time job.

Due to the student's sporadic attendance, the student failed both the second and third term. During the third time, I began to inform the student's mother when the student was not attending class. Apparently, the student was cutting school without the mother's knowledge. While the mother's involvement caused some improvement in the student's attendance and performance, much more will be needed in order for the student to pass the class.

This situation has made one point very clear - by the time a child is an upper-classman in high school, he/she should already have developed the character needed to be successful in life. It is very difficult for parents to control the behavior of a 16-18 year old when the parents are working and cannot keep their eyes on the child all day long.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


This year the school district has stressed implementing more rigorous lessons and assessments. I have attempted to comply. The results have been disheartening. The average grade on my last few tests have been circa 50. The failing students seem to find comfort in the fact that many sitting near them are failing also. I am annoyed because despite the fact that the students are not passing, they are not stepping up to the challenge. Rather than studying more (for most of them, studying at all), completing all assignments, and attending tutorial, the students are content to complain that if so many students are failing, then it must be the teacher's fault (despite the fact that with only a few exceptions, there are always students who make near 100 on the tests). While I do not contend to be the greatest teacher, I do know what I give my students everyday. If they were willing to put forth effort, they are given everything they need to succeed in my class.

While I am not at all sympathetic to the kids' failing grades because of their lack of effort, I do feel like they have been somewhat ambushed with a harder curriculum and tougher expectations. It is obvious that many of my students have reached me without having mastered basic mathematical skills like adding integers or fractions. It is not surprising that it would be challenging for the students to now have to apply those basic skills to more complicated concepts. It's like the bar has been raised for the children without the children being trained to be able to handle the greater challenge. I offer no excuse for them though. Life is not always fair. The students still need to tackle the challenges and put forth some effort to overcome them. It is the attitude of defeat that the students display that dooms them. It appears that before I teach math, I need to teach them to believe that they can have success even when it doesn't come easy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I haven't figured out if I've gotten lazy, or if I have just decided to spend my time more efficiently. First semester I stayed after school almost every single day for after school tutorial. I told my students that I would be there up to five each day. Very few of my students actually came to tutorial. When no students came, it was not completely a waste of time - I was able to grade papers, etc., but I could have done that in the comfort of my own home, and my work day would not seem so long.

This semester, since afterschool tutorial for the state tested subjects (I don't teach any of those) have begun, I told my students that I would do after-school tutorial by appointment only. This actually made sense for more than one reason. One, on many afternoons, I will need time to meet with people to try to set up a job for next year! Second, my school has this new thing where teachers have to walk down to the auditorium after school to "pick up" their students to take them back to the classroom for tutoring. It didn't make a whole lot of sense for me to walk downstairs to the opposite end of the building to find that no student needed my help on most days.

I also told my students that I would not tutor them unless they can show me notes from the lesson they need help with. Many of my students had begun to daydream in class with the assurance that they could get the missed information after school. Not any more! My voice is a commodity, and I have been stressing it out lately (by the end of the day, it is usually very weak). I refuse to have to do things twice just because a student doesn't do what he/she is supposed to in class.


I suggest that summer school be structured such that at least some of the classes are taught on block schedule. All of the Jackson teachers, and many teachers from other districts teach strictly on a block schedule. Teaching a 50 minute period is very different from teaching a 90 minute period. It would be great for the new teachers to actually have practice planning for a longer period and teaching a full block.

I personally find it much more difficult to effectively teach 90 minutes than 50 minutes. The students are just like I am - barely able to keep their mind on one subject for an hour and a half. It takes experience to get to the point where a teacher uses those 90 minutes most efficiently.

I would also have those who ride the bus to Holly Springs to sign in on the bus, and those who drive separately to sign in at the school. That would mean three sign-in sheets, but I don't think that's too much considering the time it would save teachers who would not have to wait in line to sign in.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Thanksgiving break is on the horizon, and I am giving thanks!! Even though I am not coaching this year, I am just as tired (if not more), and am in dire need of a break. At least this year I will actually get a chance to take a break instead of having to practice on Sunday, go to games on Monday and Tuesday, and practice the following weekend. I will get a chance to spend some time with my family members that I have not seen in some time, so I am excited.

Although, my "break" will not be much of a break, being that I will be spending quite a bit of time working on projects for MTC and grading papers. What I have realized is that although teachers get a lot of days off from work, they're not really days where we don't do work. The only time where there is nothing on our plate to do is summer vacation, and even then we're asked to attend workshops and professional development.

Regardless, at least I'll get to sleep late and do my work when I get ready to. I'll get a little break from the wining of my students and hopefully be refreshed when we get back. We'll see.


I think it would be great if MTC held classes at least once or twice a semester at a remote location - perhaps Jackson. If not Jackson, some place in between Oxford and Jackson. There are so many MTCers that live in and around Jackson that it makes a lot of sense to me. One of my problems with MTC is the danger involved in us working full-time jobs (some even coaching in addition to teaching), and then having to drive such a distance to Oxford on the weekends with little to no rest.

Last year, it was a regular occurrence for me to almost fall asleep on the road, only being jarred back to alertness by the sound of my tire hitting the side of the highway. While I had gotten used to it, my friends and family were afraid for me every time I had to drive to class. I finally also got to the point where I was afraid that I would not make it safely. It did not help that so many people were involved in accidents on the way to or from Oxford.

I understand that we are given an hotel room to help out with this problem, but many people's schedules do not allow them to leave early enough such that the dangers of late night/early morning driving can be avoided. Last year, rather than ride the bus to some of our away games, I often had to drive from Jackson to a Delta town for our basketball game, and then leave the game to drive to Oxford. I usually did not make it there until rather late.

I guess this is what I signed up for when I chose to attend graduate school 2.5 hours away, but I must say, at the time I did not think about the danger involved.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


First of all, the most important thing is to recognize and accept the fact that you will never have everything done. There will always be something else to do, even if you work twenty hours per day. So why work 20 hours a day and be miserable, when there will still be work left to do! I learned this lesson from my prior life experiences, so I have not allowed teaching to stress me as much as some. Having accepted this fact, the key is to actually take the time to enjoy life outside of work. Set aside time, and stick to it! Believe me, the papers to grade will be there when you get back!

Now the question is what is there to do? Mississippi does not have a great nightlife (understatement, huh?). So, much of your fun/entertainment simply comes from the people that you know. I would make it a point to try to make friends who are not teachers so that you can hang out with them on occasion and not have to talk about teacher stuff. Where do you meet these friends? Join an organization that involves one of your interests. If you are church-going, don't just go to church on Sunday. Actually attend some of the church events like picnics, socials, dinners, singles groups, or one of the ministry groups. At one point I attended church activities about once every one or two months, and it was a great opportunity to unwind and have a good time. Once you have identified one or two people with whom you share interests and enjoy hanging out with, your Friday night entertainment may simply be going out to dinner with that group, or going to a get-together at someone's house. Nothing like a night on the town in a big city, but still a way to get your mind off teaching.

If you are into sports, attend some football or basketball games - high school or college. Don't just limit yourself to attending your schools' events. If there is a great matchup going on, or if there is a star college recruit playing somewhere nearby, check it out.

In the Jackson area, check the newspapers and radio ads for upcoming events. There is always some type of play or concert coming up soon, and some of them are very reasonably priced. Check the calendars of the local colleges. They always have activities going on. (By the way, the fair is in town!)

For me, relaxing outside of school is simply sitting in front of the tv on a Saturday, with plenty of food nearby, and watching some highly ranked football team get upset by a 20 point underdog. The simple answer is, whatever it is that you like to do (read, knit, run, etc.), set aside some time for it, and do it.


I don't think that my teaching style has changed drastically from last year to this year. I am still pretty much a straight-forward, no frill type of teacher. I am rather business-like most of the time. To a certain extent, I do try to lighten the mood of the class more often than last year. I joke with the students a little bit more. I have found that even though in my mind my teacher's personality should be irrelevant to what I can learn from that teacher, it seems that part of getting a child's attention is for them to see you as a human being. My students are constantly asking me personal questions and are always unhappy with my responses ("My personal life is irrelevant to how you perform in this class," or "maybe I'll tell you later"). I do give them bits and pieces, but not a whole lot!

Other than slight changes in my attitude and demeanor, I'd say that I also allow a much more free-flowing classroom than last year during independent practice or group work time. I was somewhat forced into this because geometry is difficult to teach in a big group settting, and it is impossible for me to give sufficient one-on-one help to all the students that need it during class, so it is just about mandatory that I allow other students to assist them during class. There's a trade-off that takes place because along with the conversation about how to construct an angle using a protractor, there will also be conversations about who wore what to the game Friday. So, my class is not as structured as last year, but I think my students are learning more than last year too.

This year I have also made it a point to break up my lessons more often. If I am trying to cover multiple objectives, I will teach one, let them work out some problems/do an activity while I walk around and assist, and then teach the next one, and do the same. The students do not like to get too much at once.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


This year it became very obvious to me the importance of remaining healthy as a teacher. Given the physical aspects of teaching (standing long periods of time and having to be "on" practically all day), it is quite difficult to survive in moments of sickness of injury. At the beginning of the year, I had rather serious back pain for about the first two weeks of school. The situation was so bad that I had to sit at times during class, and as soon as work was over, I would go home, eat, and get directly into bed by no later than 5 o'clock or 5:30. I did not dare do any work like grading or the like because I thought that if I did not lie down the entire night, there would be no way that I could go to work the next day. It was not a good experience, and it made me have a much better appreciation for health, something that I often take for granted. Thankfully, after a visit to the doctor and taking some of the medication that was prescribed, my back eventually stopped hurting.

Almost as soon as my back stopped hurting, I started suffering from either the onset of a cold or sinus problems, don't know which one. Again, I would get home from school, drug myself, and lie down. While the cold, sinus issues, whatever it was, was not extremely debilitating, I did not feel well and was not in a good mood. Of course, these things matter when your job is to work with children all day, and when you are already lacking patience, as I readily admit. I honestly considered taking a day off from school to let my body rest, but I did not because I have never taken a sick day and don't want to start -- I may not be able to stop :-)

Anyway, I'm fine now and have almost gotten caught up from the three weeks of not doing much work at home. Hopefully my body won't fail me the rest of the way. I was actually drafted to work the concession stand of our football game this week. I am now seriously debating backing out though, since I am afraid that it might irritate my back like it did last year.


Unlike many, my second year of teaching has not started off as well as my first year of teaching for several reasons. Last year, I was excited about teaching and was still hopeful that teaching might be my career of choice. This year, I have already concluded that teaching K12 is not a lifetime career for me. I am well aware of my strengths and weaknesses and am very honest with myself about my shortcomings. I know that my personality is definitely not a fit for teaching children. I don't have the type of patience required in order to be an effective teacher of children. I need to teach adults. While I know that there is a reason for me teaching in high school last year and even this year (whatever that may be), I also know that teaching is not for me.

This year has also not been as good as last year because of my class schedule. I only have one section of the only course that that I actually like to teach, and 5 sections of the subjects that I don't like (and even told my administrators that). I am not an actor. I am an open book. Whatever I think and feel, it is pretty obvious to the world. Therefore, my less than enthusiasm about what I teach is likely very apparent to my students. I can't make them be excited about learning something that I'm not excited about teaching.

On top of the above, I have about 60 more students this year as compared to last year. Therefore, in many ways, I have to operate my class very differently than last year. I spend much more time controlling behavior this year. Like I said, I don't have patience for that.

So, obviously I haven't had the typical the second year is better than the first experience. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with my attitude, but that's not an easy thing to change. Good thing is that I have done many things for longer periods of time than this that I don't like, so I'll continue to teach this year, and the students will hopefully continue to learn. At the same time, I'll be searchig and applying for my next job.