Learning in the Delta: A New Teacher's Adventures

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My MTC Experience...

Two years ago I was 22 and not yet a college graduate. When I arrived in Mississippi I had 3 suitcases and no idea what to expect. I knew I was assigned to teach somewhere called Greenwood. In my head, I pictured a quaint little town like the one I grew up in, in Alaska, with one or two local coffeehouses and maybe even a used bookstore. In a word, I was clueless.

The first summer was fantastic. I fell in love with Mississippi and Ole Miss, spending my days eating catfish and hush puppies at Taylor Grocery or perusing the beautiful selection at Square Books. Summer school was exhausting, but it was the type of exhaustion that you’re happy to put up with – you’re putting so much energy into something that you know is totally worth it. By August, I was excited and ready to begin. By September, I was ready to quit.

They constantly prepare you during the first summer for how difficult the first year could be – but it really doesn’t sink in until the first few weeks. I pulled at least one all-nighter every week for the first quarter. I was so tired and depressed that I made myself physically ill, which I loved because it meant that I had an excuse not to go to school. When I did have to go to school, I woke up at 6:15 in order to leave the house by 6:20. The school I taught in my first year was actually a thirty-minute drive from my house, and I spent the whole trip thinking of the other people on the road who were going somewhere that wasn’t school, and wishing I could be them. As miserable as I was each morning on that drive to work, I was also grateful for being able to experience it. For those of you who have never driven through the Mississippi Delta, its like no place that I know of on Earth; and on those early mornings, when the sun rose over the catfish ponds, it was the most beautiful and memorable image of the South that I have been lucky enough to capture.

As my first year rolled on, the experience got better. Each day was a challenge, but a little less so than the one before it. Looking back, my first year in MTC was the most difficult year of my life. There are a huge number of factors for that difficulty, but I think the largest factor, and the one that hurts a little bit to admit, was me: I wasn’t grown up.

Of course I was an adult when I joined MTC, and my maturity level was light years ahead of those of my students (and even some faculty members), but I was still this little college girl who didn’t know how to live on her own and take care of herself. I wanted to blame everyone and everything outside of me: the school, my students, the system, my roommate – everyone except me. Granted, this is a very difficult program and, as an outsider, the community can be extremely scary; but a person shouldn’t stay an outsider forever. My largest regret about these past two years is that I never integrated myself into my surroundings the way I have seen others in my class do. A new place can be stressful and difficult, but if, after two years, Mississippi is still a new place – there’s no one to blame but myself. I am an outsider here, not because others have left me out, but because I have kept myself out.

After that first year, I moved to Jackson and made an effort to allow myself to be open to the possibility of enjoying teaching in Mississippi, just like that first summer after college. I still have my moments of getting so worked up and stressed out that I close myself off to the community around me, but – overall – I think I have made a real change. I am no longer wishing I was someone else; I don’t pull all-nighters; I’ve made, for me, a large effort to become more involved in my school, my students, and my staff; and, I’ve even started waking up earlier than five minutes before I have to be out the door.

The assignment was to write about our MTC experience, and I feel like I didn’t write about anything. I have a million stories, good and bad; there are people I’ve met that I will never forget; I have learned things that will remain with me forever. There is too much to say about this place and this program, but there is no right way to say it. For the rest of my life I am willing to bet that some of my worst memories will be of teaching in Mississippi. Of course, these are my favorite memories as well.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spring Break in the South

My birthday happened to fall during this year’s Spring Break. Robert and I planned two trips – Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, and The Peabody Hotel in Memphis. We visited Monmouth first, and old plantation made famous by General Quitman. It was a beautiful mansion house, filled with history and old-timey relics. The grounds were lovely – gardens, ponds, statues, a croquet course, and a variety of walking trails.

The one complaint I had about Monmouth, which maybe I should re-label as a discomfort instead of a complaint, was the particular history that was so awkwardly being displayed. On the particular day that we chose to visit and eat at Monmouth, every other guest we ran into was white. During our five-course dinner – which was incredible – in the mansion, the bartender and two other servers were all black, and the same was true of each server and busboy at breakfast the next morning. Most likely, the servers’ race had more to do with the demographics of the area than anything else, and it may have just been a coincidence that every person we saw visiting the plantation was white. Although we both managed to forget about this awkwardness for the better part of the trip, it was still a very bizarre dynamic to experience.

After Natchez, we drove North to Memphis. Even though we both live in Jackson, driving into Memphis we agreed that driving into a real city was such a nice and missed experience. Jackson is certainly a city, but it doesn’t have loopty-loops on the interstate and the downtown isn’t bursting lights and excitement, AND, in Jackson there isn’t a movie being filmed when we walk into the lobby! That’s right, Soul Man, starring Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson just happened to be filming in The Peabody the night we arrived. We think we caught a glimpse of Bernie Mac on set, but – alas – Sammy J was nowhere to be seen.

For those people who have never been to The Peabody, GO. You don’t need to get a room there, but you do need to see it. It’s overwhelming. Referred to as “The South’s Grand Hotel,” and “Where the real Delta Begins”. It is a beautiful sight. Plus, there are ducks. Yup… Ducks. They march to the lobby fountain every day at 10:00 and they march back to their rooftop palace, via elevator, every evening at 5:00. Awesome, right?

Needless to say, I had a great Spring Break. It’s amazing how much my love for this place can swell when I have a week off from teaching.

Growing Up

The day of the third term district exam, every math teacher was asked to administer the test to an Algebra I class that they didn’t normally teach – not a big deal, unless you happen to be assigned to the class where 3 major fights had broke out in the last month – which, thank my lucky stars, was assigned to yours truly. Luckily, I gave myself a large pep-talk on the way to work, “you WILL NOT raise your voice; you WILL address every student in the room as Sir or Ma’am; you WILL NOT hesitate to make use of the hall monitor and write-ups.” It worked. As stressful as the situation of dealing with this unknown class almost got, they all seemed to appreciate my politeness, and after the test, I allowed the i-pods to come out and the “respectful” dance party to begin.

It’s amazing that I often forget how far a calm voice and a respectful address will take me in terms of classroom management. There are so many days that I become fed up with students to such a great degree that I begin raising my voice, slamming my door, and calling them anything that comes to mind, “you disrespectful, ignorant, mean, blah, blah, blah…” After having such a nice time working with the seemingly dreadful Algebra I students during third term exams, I have made a much larger effort to give myself that same pep-talk every morning on the way to school, and to continue it in my head as often as I can during the school day. Not only does my new demeanor seem to affect my students, but it is helping me to realize that so many of the actions that were getting me riled up in the past are minor incidents, most of which turn out to be silly high-school experiences. When a student imitates me to the class, instead of getting angry or imitting him, I calmly say to myself , “You can either choose to smile and move on, or calmly call security and have the student removed.”

It’s a little sad that, as a teacher, it has taken me this long to grow up and not let the student’s bother me. However, walking around the school, I see 5 teachers every day who are acting childish and immature. I don’t want to reprimand these teachers, though. Most of them, including me, are doing a good job. Sometimes students are just assholes, and when you work with them every day you’re bound to let it get to you. We just have to keep breathing.


In Jackson, the district creates and administers the final exam at the end of each term for all State-Tested classes. I teach two Algebra I classes – which I love – and, unfortunately, have to deal with the pressure of preparing my students for not only a state test, but a district test as well. Never knowing what the test looks like until the day I am administering it to my students is stressful, especially when one takes into consideration the amount we are required to teach each term (the JPS pacing guide is a joke), and that each teacher must constantly be reinforcing everything covered in previous terms, since what was tested in the first term, may reappear in the test for the fourth term.

My first two district tests – first term and semester – were “interesting.” It is always a bad sign when the term “normalized” is brought up in terms of grading. Normalized is the districts way of saying, “since everyone scored so poorly on our test, we are going to add 38 points to each student’s original score.” Teachers are not allowed to turn in any grades until the district has “normalized” each student. As report card time rolls around and the question floating around the faculty meeting is, “do you know if the scores have been normmed, yet?” it’s difficult not to crack a smile and giggle at the ridiculous of the question. It’s as if to say, “tests are not an adequate instrument of measuring learning, unless you erase all the incorrect answers and replace them with the correct ones.” Umm… wouldn’t I get fired for doing that in my own classroom? Hmm?

Lucky for me, though, the scores are normalized. Otherwise, the sight of all those 20s and 30s might be enough to make me quit. After normalizing, I at least have some students who passed the first term and semester exam.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Working at a high school in Jackson for my second year in the program is one of the bet decisions I have made for myself while in the program. Last year I was placed in the Delta teaching 7th and 8th graders. I will always be grateful for that experience, but there is absolutely nothing that I miss about it. This year I am teaching high school math, mostly pre-algebra to ninth graders, but it is so much easier and so much more enjoyable than any experience I had last year. The administration is better, the student’s – although, still difficult – are vastly better behaved and more willing to learn, and the community is just more welcoming and easier to become integrated into. The one aspect of the job that continues to surprise and frustrate me, though, is the family.

This past semester I created a project for the final exam. The students had a month to write, type-up, and hand in an encyclopedia of mathematical terms. Of course the majority of my kids turned in nothing. When this happened, I began making some phone calls. One the parents I contacted is a reverend at one of the larger Baptist churches in the community. He is a very nice man and has always seemed very supportive of teachers and educational institutions. When he found out that his son had a project due that had not yet been turned in, he dropped what he was doing an immediately drove to school, pulled his son out of class, took the boy home, placed him in front of the computer, and the encyclopedia was in my hand by the end of the day. That same evening I got e-mail from the father apologizing for his son and asking me to take off points for not having the exam turned in on time so that his son would learn the consequences of not being responsible.

It is such a rare experience in th past two years to have parents be concerned with their son/daughter’s education to the point that they will come to school to take care of it. It is even more rare, though, to have the blame be put on the child instead of the teacher. Too often I have had to listen to parents complain about my high expectations. It’s still unbelievable to me that parents believe that their high school students should not be expected to take responsibility for their actions.

This past semester I had a mother come to the school during my tutorial hour after school because her daughter was assigned detention. The detention was given because the young lady was leading the line and was asked to stop and wait at a certain point in the hallway on the way to lunch. The young lady kept talking and walking, while the students who were listening stopped and waited. The mother was pissed at me for treating her daughter like she was in Kindergarten. When I told her mother that a kindergartener would know how to listen to directions, she was really pissed. She actually said to me, “ If it wasn’t for people like me having kids, you wouldn’t have a job.”

How do you respond to that?

Favorite Student Story

It’s so hard to admit that I have favorite students – it just doesn’t seem fair. But, there are those students that I enjoy seeing more than others. This year I have a lot more favorites, and the ones that are actually rare are those that I don’t want to see (of course, they still exist).

There is a young man in one of my Pre-Algebra classes named D’Undra. When I first met him he was very quiet and soft spoken. Looking at him you can tell that he is not very up-to-date on the latest fashions or trends. He certainly tries to dress hip, but he never really succeeds. Looking at him, though, my heart just melts. He has one of those physical personas that makes you love him, but just feel sorry for him. I always want so badly to compliment everything he does as an effort to make him feel better and to make him feel more accepted – however, I usually catch myself – as the teacher, my compliments mean something different than a peer’s. Everything about D’Undra just adds to the adorable, but pitiful presence that his physical style exudes. He has terrible handwriting, is extremely klutzy, and misplaces everything. I love him so much, but at the beginning all I did was worry.

When I first met him I thought for sure that he would struggle throughout the math class, and would be lucky to pass with a 70. His grandmother called me early on in the school year to ask about calculators and tutoring. When we spoke on the phone she told me that D’Undra struggled with every subject but that she was spending the money to place him in an after school tutoring center, hoping that it would help bring up his grades. After 5 weeks of school it was time for all teachers to send out progress reports. Needless to say, I was shocked when D’Undra had the best grade in my class – and I don’t mean just his block, but out of all the pre-algebra students, his score was the highest. I almost started crying when I realized what a great job he was doing.

The day before progress reports were being handed out I couldn’t wait to deliver the news, so I called D’Undra’s grandmother and told her about D’Undra’s success. She was overwhelmed and was literally laughing so loud that it sounded like yelling. I asked her not to tell D’Undra because I wanted to see his expression at school when he found out. His smile was perfect! I have never felt better about being a teacher. Every bad day teaching was worth it after getting to see D’Undra’s face. He told me that day, “ I have never been able to learn math, but you teach it so easy.”

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The topics for this month’s blogs were all centering on information involving coursework and expectations that applicants to the MTC should have involving the coursework. This particular blog is intended to touch upon two topics: My best class in the program, and what this program – in my own opinion – can do to make itself better.

I have had many memorable and useful experiences during the classes at Ole Miss. Methods is a great way to get some new and creative teaching strategies; Listening to influential politicians and leaders has helped to inspire and excite my passion for education; and building my own school district gave me a deeper respect for those involved in promotion and support of public educational systems. My favorite class, though, was the law class I took over the summer of my second year. I believe that there are a few different reasons for this: time, instruction, and content. Time was a factor because it was a month long class, which only lasted 90 minutes, and which took place over the summer. I didn’t have to deal with my job or struggle to stay awake. Another factor for making this my favorite class, perhaps the largest one, was the instruction style. The professor treated everyone in the class as a college student, giving us work that we found interesting, never-EVER asking us to do some project involving scissors and colored pencils. All of the work in the law class was thought provoking, challenging, age-appropriate, college level work. The final factor that I believe made a difference in my enjoyment of the class was the content: we read the Constitution of the United States and I learned about its application and how the laws apply to me and my situation – what is cooler than that?

To continue, though, discussing the importance of instruction and content in one’s college class environment, I would like to switch gears a little bit and focus on what MTC can do to change itself for the better.

When I was applying to colleges and Universities in high school, I expressed interest in becoming a teacher and looking for a program that offered a degree in education. Most of the teachers and counselors who were aware of this interest tried to persuade me to pursue another field of study, explaining to me that a degree in teaching was not very useful. I was confused by this statement, assuming that if teaching was the career that I ultimately wanted, than nothing would be more useful to me than a degree in that particular area. Now, only half a year away from attaining my Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, I am beginning to understand what those people meant by this whole pursuit being useless. The schools of education, in my opinion are filled with the most non-intellectual, watered-down, nonsense! Most of the coursework that I find myself doing is insulting. I am a 23 year old person with a degree in philosophy and mathematics, and I have been asked to fill out worksheets, draw colored paper out of cups to figure out what group I’m in, write 10-day lesson plans that correctly mark all of the STAI points (do they really think that helps?). The things that I have been tested on, quizzed on, graded on – I could care less about most of these things. I enjoy the conversations, the debates, and some of the genuine readings about making our public education system a better place. However, if you continue to breed teachers using the instruction of the school of education, nothing will change. A smart 14 year old could pass most of these courses.

I believe that MTC is wise in only accepting people who have a degree in something other than education. A degree in something else means that you might have actually had an education that benefits you in other areas of your life. However, recognizing the benefit of a different degree, why are they then forcing this crappy coursework on us? If you know its not worthwhile, change it.

Jim Collins is not an intellectual. Good To Great reads like a textbook: Venn diagrams, flow charts, elementary school analogies to buses and forest creatures. There were no profound sentences or core-shaking ideas. The only time I became passionate while reading his book was when I complained to a friend about the absurdity of the Stockdale Paradox (NOT A PARADOX!). It may not be necessary for Jim Collins to write well in order to make his point, but his book is so full of images and quotes and analogies and data; one begins to lose interest in the point.

Collins has discovered a way for good organizations to become great. Excellent. However, after the list he gave of good organizations, why should I be inspired to become great? Coca-Cola is only a good company. Personally, Coca Cola seems to e doing just fine. If you asked me to choose between my organization being a Coca-Cola or a Walgreen’s, I could be persuaded either way. The fact that one of those companies is only good, while the other is great according to Mr. Collins does not mean much to me.

While on the topic of organizations, how well does Good To Great translate to schools? Throughout the book, there are statements that Collins makes which seem to be applicable to all organizations: the five levels of leaders were applicable not only to CEOs, but to dead presidents as well. However, there were other statements he made which made me stop and question how he pictured anyone other than a businessman putting his word’s into action. For example, the first of the three circles, or, What you can be the best in the world at (Ugh): “The good to great companies understood that doing what you are good at will only make you good; focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organization is the only path to greatness.”

Am I supposed to believe that JPS is better at something than any other district in the US and should therefore give up endeavors for anything else? Or, is it that Public Schooling as a whole is better than any other organization at education, and should therefore focus on that? Hopefully it is neither because both are useless and silly statements. The mere fact that this notion of focusing on what you can do best is part of process called The Hedgehog Concept, though, doesn’t discourage me from thinking that so many of this man’s statements are silly.

I hate to write this man and his research off as silly. I am sure that data in this book is beneficial and that certain CEOs have plaques hanging up of THE COUNCIL mechanism so as to remind everyone that questioning needs to happen in a clockwise motion. Unfortunately, I cannot take seriously a person who decides it is a wise move to convince people of the superiority of hedgehogs by writing, “What could be more simple than ? What could be simpler than the idea of the unconscious, organized into an id, ego, and superego? What could be more elegant than Adam Smith’s pin factory and ‘invisible hand’?”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Ok, when you need to relax, here are a few suggestions that you or may not have thought of:

• Watch BAD teacher movies and yell at the screen when they make teaching look easy. My personal picks: Dangerous Minds, To Sir With Love (actually good), Take The Lead, Lean on Me (also Good).
• Pick out a fancy recipe and go for it! Even if it turns out horrible – it is fun.
• Take a float trip down the Mississippi (there are places in the Delta to rent kayaks and canoes).
• Day Trip out-of-state! New Orleans/Memphis?
• Sign up for NETFLIX. It is AWESOME!!
• Go to Wal-Mart (blech!) or another store, and buy yourself a present.
• Take photographs – especially of the Delta (Its BEAUTIFUL…really).
• Go to a museum.
• Plan your Spring Break early.
• Carve a pumpkin.
• Go to the STATE FAIR (this week!).
• Buy a bottle of wine and be SUPER snobby about it.
• Read a book NOT related to school in any way.

Wow, my list looks like a poor version of one of those awful Dos/Don’ts lists you might find in a Cosmo magazine. YIKES! Truthfully, last year I would invest in large portions of food and episodes of Grey’s Anatomy/Big Love almost every day. It was horrible! My advice when you need to relax after school: be active. I know that sounds weird, but teaching is so draining, that unless you re-fuel and energize yourself, you will feel yucky and tired from 3:30p.m. until bedtime. It is helpful if you can find an activity that you enjoy which requires you to be more active than sitting up.

A New School

I changed schools my second year. Last year I was placed in Leflore County, teaching three preps: 7th grade math, 8th grade math, and 7th grade science. I was in a school of less than 200 students, and I was the one and only math teacher. I had a mentor who taught a math class – but, for her, that meant giving them a book and writing the page numbers on the board. I was moved from a computer lab to a regular classroom to the special education director’s class. I also lived 45 minutes away from the school building itself. It was difficult to say the least.

I am extremely grateful to have been placed in the Delta and to have had the opportunity to live and teach there, but I am very happy to be out of it now. Of course I still miss it. There is no place on earth like the Mississippi Delta. The thing I miss the most is driving to school in the morning: there is nothing but fields and catfish farms for 30 minutes. In the winter the heat from the earth would mix with the cold air and cause this gorgeous fantastical mist everywhere. It was so beautiful. If I left early enough I got to see the sunrise, and the morning sun in the Delta is so big it’s scary.

As far as the two school experiences I have had thus far, hands down, I am in the better school. Everything, from the administration, to the buildings, to the faculty, to the resources, to the students themselves, to me – its all better. I credit some of the change to me, having more confidence and consistency after a year of teaching, but mostly, I just credit where I am – the community of Jackson is larger and people living there are more in touch with popular culture, wealth, etc. Because of the location of the school, my students have the opportunity to see and interact with wealth, liberal arts colleges, and diverse cultures (even if only a little bit). Also, the wealth that my students can interact with I also directly in the school building: I love leaving my classroom for the day, seeing the entire marching band on the field playing, the cheerleaders practicing, the girls soccer team running laps, and the football team on their field in uniforms. There is so much for the students to do, to care about, and they choose to stay at school and participate, sometimes until 7 or 8 at night. At my school in the Delta, not only students, but teachers, were asked to leave the school by 4.

The sense of community has been strong in both schools I have taught at in Mississippi. However, the community in the Delta is close in a (perhaps) dangerous way, caring not for education, but for relationships and reputations. Much of Jackson has the same emphasis on these two cares as well, but there is enough wealth and diversity to offer other cares, and other communities – those that will teach you something, and make you someone better. This year, I get to be a part of one of those communities.

Monday, September 03, 2007


Last year I went to one football game for my school. I showed up, watched about five minutes of the game, waved to some of my kids, and left. This year, I decided to make more of an effort in supporting my students’ extra-curricular activities. The first football game of the year was last Friday: Murrah vs. Calloway. My students were asking for two weeks, “Ms. D? Are you coming to the game?” How could I disappoint? I made it to the game during the last 10 minutes of the first half ( I am going to take this moment to make a quick point about how ridiculous it is that teachers have to pay to attend a game – RIDICULOUS!!!). Anyways, I showed up during the end of the first half and attempted to watch the game, but I couldn’t. The high school that I attended was too small to have any organized sports teams, and so all of my previous knowledge about high school football games is from Archie comics and movies like Varsity Blues, Remember the Titans, and Friday Night Lights. I actually thought that the game was about the game. I believed that students, parents, and teachers went to watch the game, cheer on the quarterback, yell at the ref, and give standing ovations whenever anyone scored a touchdown. Turns out that the majority of people going to the game care little, if anything at all about watching it. There were a few older couples and some people who looked as though they may have some ancient affiliation with the school (previous students?) actually enjoying the game. For the most part though, people were talking, yelling across the stands, texting their friends, walking around and waving to anyone they recognized – never an eye on the field.

Shortly after I arrived and found a seat, half-time rolled around. This was the most entertaining moment of my night. Calloway began the show with its band, flag dancers, and cheerleaders. They played the theme from Dreamgirls, marched around in unison, and the dancing girls bore a striking resemblance to the ladies I imagine I might find in a strip club. I am not trying to deny the obvious talent that these girls have – but, if you put poles on the field, I don’t think that their routine would have to change a great deal. After Calloway, Murrah took the field. Again – the theme from Dreamgirls, marching around in spirals, and little girls in short shorts, leather boots, on their knees, butt in the air, humping the field. Sadly, all I could really do was laugh.

Again, I would like to emphasize that my only knowledge of these Friday night events and half time shows are from Betty and Veronica. This being said, I have a question for all of you who might have a larger realm of actual experience: Were girls’ high school dance teams always this sexual? Is it the inevitable fate of a cheerleader to shake her ass and pop her hip? If someone could offer me a little more insight on this subject I would greatly appreciate it.

Needless to say, I left the game shortly after halftime. Murrah won. I plan on staying longer next time, but maybe skipping the halftime show.


I started off my second year teaching in Mississippi at a new school. Thank God. Last year I was teaching 3 preps, head, and only member of the math department, and the only person NOT from the delta in the faculty. It was difficult. This year I have two preps, a department filled with many teachers from different backgrounds, and am in a school with 4 other MTC alum, and teachers from different states AND countries. Incredibly more welcoming.

Even if you take away the community, the diversity, the fewer preps, and the one year of experience – there is still something to be said for having a better home-life. Last year I lived with a roommate in a three-bedroom house, and regardless of all the space, chose to keep everything I owned in a single room – bed, desk, bookshelf, clothes, everything. I left school at 3:30 every day, swung by Taco Bell to pick up my only meal for the day, ate in the car as I steered with my knees, went to movie gallery to get three new movies for the evening, immediately crawled under the covers when I got home, watched two movies, began work, watched another movie, then fell asleep at 1:00 am – that was my home-life.

This year I have made a conscious effort not to confine myself to one room when I get home from school. I try to cook every evening, and try even harder to steer clear of the television. The previous year of experience has helped me to learn what type of work to bring home, and what I can put off until the next day at school. Work is not something I dread anymore (well, yes it is, but still…) its something I can plan for, and make time for, and actually complete before midnight.

The first week of school was different this year, but what was even more surprising were the first weeks before school. JPS requires that all new teachers participate in a weeklong professional development. It was agonizing and horrible, with a few brief moments of pain – but, it was still one week that JPS dedicated to its new teachers. After that, there was a one week in-school professional development required of all teachers. I had an entire week to be in my classroom, in the school, get a projector from the library, learn the copier codes, etc. I got to know the school before I was expected to teach in it. It was so much more helpful than the one morning of meet and greet followed by the single afternoon of decorating my classroom that I had last year.
When the kids came I actually felt prepared to send them to the office, write a referral, give a detention, make copies of an assignment, etc.

The best part of my new school year? There’s a coffee machine in the library.

Monday, July 09, 2007


• Liscence: Keep Copies

• Contract: Keep Copies

• Attendance

• Tardies

• Behavioral Patterns: Sleepy, Sad, Upset, Depressed (The students’ – not yours). If you notice something weird about a student, make a note of it. That way, if it continues, you can call home and let them know when it started. I had a student who began to fall asleep every day in class. When I finally called home, I found out that he was on a basketball team that traveled to Jackson for games at nights, and that he was not getting any sleep on the bus-rides home. His mother took care of it.

• Write-ups/Office Referrals: : If you wait to call home for a recurring problem, you will want to be able to tell exactly how many instances a child was written up for.

• Detentions/Suspensions: If you wait to call home for a recurring problem, you will want to be able to tell exactly how many instances a child was written up for.

• Textbook Designation: I just passed out a math book to each student and told them to write their name in it. Come the end of the year, over 100 books were missing, and I had no one to blame for it. Keep track of this!

• Homework Assignment/Homework Due Date: I constantly forgot to collect homework, so have a good system for turning in, grading, etc.

• Work Turned in: on-time/late/never

• Students’ Personal Information: Full name, Birthday, Telephone number, Parents’/Guardians’ names, relationship to student, workplace, phone number, etc.

• School Paper-Work: Intervention forms, Discipline Reports, Grading Sheets, Attendance Sheets, etc. There is so much that a district has to keep track of, and if they lose anything, chances are that they will not apologize and will fault you for not having an extra – so, make copies.

• Gradeboook: I never knew when to expect it, but my principal asked for my updated gradebook at the weirdest times. Sometimes I had it, sometimes I didn’t. If you use GRADEKEEPER or some other online grading system, make printouts and have them available and as up-to-date as possible.

• Extra Credit: whether you announced it as extra credit or not, if a student earns it, keep a note of it.

• Personality: It’s fun to make silly awards for end-of the-quarter/end-of-the-year awards (example: The walk-it-out award, Best-Bling, Sleeping Beauty, etc.). If a student has a funny moment, or repetitive action that you want to highlight, make a note of it. Also, some students are very sensitive to certain aspects of their personality, so if there is something you notice that a student does not like to be commented on about, make a mental or written note of it.

• Sample Work: Have some for each student, for each benchmark. At the end of the year some students will not pass, and the district might need to meet and “discuss” whether these particular students should pass or not. They will ask some teachers for examples of student work. Other times, parents will ask a teacher for examples at conferences (or even durin

Everyone will face some form of frustration with their administration, especially during their first year of teaching. Often, though, the administration is hardly the one to blame – but, they’re such an easy target. Of course, I’m not saying that they’re excused; from everything I’ve heard and experienced this year, school districts are professional “screw-ups.” Are there little tricks to help a person avoid or deal with the stress caused by his/her district and/or administration? I’m inclined to say, “to each his own.” People have different ways of reacting and dealing with difficulties. The biggest piece of advice I would have to offer to anyone is BE POLITE. Regardless of the situation, I have never heard of a person benefiting from being rude. Be forward, be direct, be honest, be serious – but, keep it professional. Across the board, politeness and professionalism seem to be a given. Of course, these terms mean different things to different people (hence, all the frustration between a teacher and a district). My personal policy was the simple “smile-and-nod” technique. If a principal, fellow teacher, or administrator was pissing me off, or doing something to induce stress, I would immediately smile, be overly nice, and get outta there. The more condescendingly sweet to a person a can be (provided that the person is stressing me out), the better I feel. It may seem horrible to some, but like I said earlier, “to each his own.” Here are a few other tricks that I and others have used to deal with the frustrations brought on from our “superiors”:

• Have someone to vent to: If someone is willing to listen, talk to them. Many times family and friends have difficulty relating to how shitty things can get during your first year of teaching – but, our particular program just so happens to place you, every-other weekend, with a group of people in your exact same shoes, very willing (usually) to listen and - more often than not – laugh.

• Write a letter: Doesn’t matter who its to, or whether you even end up sending it, sometimes its just plain nice to write it all down. I guess some people call this a “diary” or “journal”, but it can be cool to address something to your principal, and let them know EXACTLY what you are thinking about their new “grading policy.”

• Post a flyer to your school building…or not

• Call the media… or not

• Get away: Don’t think about school, Don’t think about your district – just go! Take a day trip to the Delta (or out of the Delta). Go to Memphis. Go to New Orleans for the weekend. Just get your mind off of school.

• Edit something on pbwiki or googlemaps…or not


• Join an angry girl band

• Get involved in something productive outside of school (church, volunteering, library book drives, etc.)

• Take a cooking class

• Go to a restaurant

• Go for a run

• Go for a drive

• DEAL WITH IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!