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.