To borrow a theme from T.S. Eliot, this Mississippi life has been measured out in Gchat conversations and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My day-to-day existence here has been so overwhelming at times that it seems silly to come up with one blog post to tie it all together. In that sense, I’m ambivalent about the idea of a final summative reflection—and not just because with one day before my kids take the state test I feel both that I have better things to do and that I deserve a break. If the purpose of this blog post is to give some final closure, I’m not going to be very good at it. This blog probably won’t meet the requirements of a good summary according to the state Department of Education, either (which my kids would tell you include being an accurate restatement of the main ideas of the original text in order).
I remember almost nothing from the first days of school. Certainly very little after the first two hours of holding in the gym; I do have a vague memory of meeting my first block that day, but after that, my first real memory of school is from about October of that fall. Otherwise, most of my memories come from small moments of hilarity or stress in the classroom, not necessarily the day-to-day feelings I had about myself as a teacher. Recently, in a data meeting, my principal asked me how these kids, and this year, compare to last year, and I honestly told her that I had no idea—I didn’t remember anything before last spring.
What I do remember was very up and down. Looking over emails and chats and recollecting phone conversations I had with my friends from outside MTC, I recall how unprepared I was to deal with the emotions that come with teaching in a critical-needs school. Maybe that is one area MTC could do a better job with preparing us for; maybe not.
This year, I remember more. And what I do remember, I’m mostly satisfied with. I have become more me in my classroom. When I was a freshman counselor as a senior, my college dean told me that he didn’t expect us to be different versions of ourselves; he wanted us to be the biggest possible versions of ourselves. I struggled with that my first year. It took at least a semester for me to figure out what I liked and didn’t like in my own classroom, and really, I’m still figuring it out.
In my second year, my teaching also got a lot better. I’m not going to go into it—it’s mostly up on my portfolio anyway—but I tightened up a lot of procedures and got more consistent in how I talk about each objective, which made repetition and practice more effective. As much as they have been scaring me these last two days before the state test, I think my students are going to do well. I’m hoping they will do really well; I know they can. They did learn something this year.
And this is what I learned about myself over the course of my two years here (as cheesy as that is to say):
- Several of my students this year described me as patient. That was a first.
- I really don’t care about being cool. And that really is cool.
- I will probably always seek out jobs that drive me crazy. The hardest part about this job is that I still take it hard when something doesn’t go right, and I see my kids hurt as a result. On the other hand, it’s very energizing to be so invested in something. That part is addicting.
- I really am a morning person. I fade in the afternoon. I still don’t have a way to combat this other than caffeine.
- I love, love, love reading. I never realized how important a part of my life it was until I got to know kids for whom it isn’t at all. I had originally wanted to teach social studies; that would still be cool, but there’s nothing better than getting a kid to enjoy reading.
- There are some students for whom I would do pretty much anything within my power to help. It might not be all of them, but it has surprised me to know that I will cry over a 16-year-old boy—not if he curses me out in class, but if he is one of those kids that I had really invested time in only to see him get expelled for jumping into a brawl by the buses the afternoon of the state writing test. If there is any time I’ve ever felt like one of those inspiring movie teachers, it’s been the times that I have gone over to S’s house to tutor him in the five weeks since his expulsion. I might not be proud of everything I’ve done here, but I’m proud of that.
With the end of my two years in the program, I realize I’m okay with finishing MTC. At the beginning of my first year, a third-year I very much respected told me I would get to a point where I would be no longer interested in MTC. Coming off a summer of fun and friendship, I was skeptical; I see now what she meant, as while I’m certainly interested in seeing MTC-ers, and I still believe wholeheartedly in the worth and quality of the program, I’m just not interested in Oxford/blogs/class anymore.
But what has caused me to lose interest in the Oxford weekends and the whole MTC aspect of my being here was not so much any growing dislike or frustration with the Teacher Corps. Really, my experience has just become so much more about Jackson and my school than about MTC. I’m glad of this. It seems healthy—that it’s a sign that I have fully integrated myself into my school community (even if I still don’t have a big Jackson community outside teachers). In the end, this experience has ultimately been about me becoming a teacher, not an MTC teacher or a Northern teacher or whatever, but just good old-fashioned teaching and learning.
I think it’s fitting, then, for an English teacher to close by offering a favorite poem, and reflecting on its connection to my experience. I first heard this poem at the memorial service of a friend while I was in college, and I liked it then, but I didn’t quite get it then (this seems to be a theme in this blog; I promise I was not as naïve/dense before MTC as I am making myself sound). But when I rediscovered it—strangely enough, while looking up pictures of water buffalo for an assignment on The Things They Carried—I immediately recognized it as the best way to sum up the respect I feel for both my MTC colleagues and the simultaneous importance and everydayness of our job.
To Be of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.