My MTC experience...
Earlier that year, I had applied to another program that offered the same type of opportunities and wasn’t granted admittance. I felt that as awesome as those types of programs sounded, maybe that just wasn’t for me. However, after stumbling upon the web site and reading up on what the Mississippi Teacher Corps was doing, I decided to be a little more forward with my pursuit. So, the summer after I graduated from Texas, I decided to make a personal visit up to Oxford during summer training and introduce myself to Ben as well as the rest of the current members. After checking everything out, I just had a great feel about what the program represented. I made sure to send my application out as the first one for the file of 2006.
I still remember getting the voice message from Ben saying that I had been admitted to the program, and then running outside to call my parents to let them know about the good news. They were ecstatic; especially, since they knew how serious I was about wanting to be a part of a program like this.
Now, I think that every person has some vision in his/her mind about what inner city teaching is going to be like, and for the most part, I think everyone that applies for a program like this has a vision of themselves succeeding in that environment. I certainly thought that I would be a natural at it. I had worked with kids before, and my knowledge of hip-hop culture was quite impressive for a 23-year old, white male from Texas. I remember picturing myself in the hall, walking down, giving each student a little ‘dap’ before their next class; it was classic.
I remember summer training where I got placed in a classroom full of freshman girls. I think any young male would succeed in classroom management in this atmosphere, and I think I got a false depiction of what teaching was actually going to be like. The one good thing was that the experience calmed my anxieties about having to teach Middle School math to a group of students without having been a Math major in college.
It was then time for the real thing. My first month was horrible. I did a pretty good job of coping with the lack of success that I was having, but I was completely frustrated with myself. I was doing so much discipline, and I always felt on edge throughout the day. I remember having a nervous feeling all the time during those initial weeks where I think I even lost like 10 pounds just because I wouldn’t eat lunch. I felt like I was letting my guard down when I took bites of my sandwich. This had to be eliminated. It was also a very humbling experience to have to call my dad for advice about my job. I think I had always had a certain amount of pride when it came to school and where I worked that I could handle things by myself, and for whatever reason I just felt like it was not getting any better.
While my dad did give some excellent advice, I think the most useful piece of knowledge that I received was from my mentor Jake Roth. He simply said, “Don’t take anything personally; just move on.” That may be a simple statement to you, but this was revolutionary to me. My biggest problem wasn’t that I was struggling interacting with the kids or teaching math, it was being too much of a people-pleaser. I wanted every student to think of me as his/her favorite teacher, and it really bothered me when a student would display a lot of frustration and anger towards me. However, once I got it through my head that I was there to educate and mentor, it became a lot easier to do what’s best for the child even if that child doesn’t like it.
Now, there were so many joys that occurred during my first year of teaching. We won the city championship in football, I got to be in a documentary, and I even got to the opportunity to coach 5 sports. Along the way, I struck up a couple of lifelong friendships that were definitely blessings in disguise. All in all, it was a very challenging and rewarding year. When the summer rolled around, I couldn’t have been happier though. Don’t get me wrong. I loved teaching and coaching, but I definitely realized how much energy both required.
Then the second year rolled around, and there was such a noticeable difference as to how much easier it got. My classes, for the most part, have gone so much better this year, and I think I’m a much better teacher. I also was moved up from teaching 7th grade to teaching 8th grade, so a lot of my students were repeats from the previous year. It’s crazy to think, but in a weird way, I’ve had a very influential hand in raising them. I hope that it’s been for the better.
The highlight of this year, however, has been getting to be the head basketball coach. Basketball has played such a big part of my life since I was a little kid, so I was so happy and proud to get the opportunity to coach in Jackson, an area known for its basketball play. It also made it even more special that we won the city championship this year marking it the first time in 10 years that Powell has won it in boys’ basketball. We previously had a reputation of being the Buffalo Bills of JPS middle school having been in the championship game 3 of the last 4 years and losing every one of them. Fortunately for us, we had the right mix of players to come in and make things happen at the right time.
One thing that I’m really proud of in my time serving as head coach was that we ran a character-driven program. We began the year with 15 players, and unfortunately, we finished the year with 8. However, we stood by our initial statements that if a player chose to make poor decisions, he would receive the consequences. This included underachieving in the classroom. I was blown away the first time that I learned about grade-changes to get players eligible. It didn’t matter if you dropped 35 points the previous night; if you chose to be selfish, then you were going to reap the consequences. Of the 8 guys that remained, I can honestly say that I saw a remarkable change in their behavior in school. I definitely would attribute a lot of this to being a part of the basketball team. Now, while we did preach and practice a clean program, I think we also had one of the most upbeat teams around. Our guys loved to play the game, and they were a joy to be around. The memories from that season were spectacular, and it’s an experience that I’ll remember for a lifetime.
While teaching moments seemed to dominate my memories from the first year, coaching moments seem to do the same for my second year. I’ve never been so close to students as I have been with my basketball players. I’d do anything for them. It also makes me realize how much I enjoy being a part of a team that is working towards a goal. We had one from the day we started, and we were fortunate enough to achieve it. I can’t emphasize enough how much fun that was.
So, to be honest, if I had to sum up my MTC experience in one sentence, it would be that it was a truly, life-changing experience. It was definitely one of the coolest things that I have ever been apart of, and even if I don’t stay in education, I would love to always keep some sort of involvement with the program. I can’t say enough about how rewarding the program is. If you’re considering doing something like this, you should definitely do it.