The last 84 days of my life are a blur. Once upon a time in early June, I arrived in my new home state, Louisiana, to embark on the most transformational journey of my young life. I spent the second week of June living at the beautiful Crowne Plaza hotel in Baton Rouge–a city I’ve come to adore. The other 70-odd corps members (other Teach for America teachers) and I went through session after session learning more about the program to which we had just sold our souls, and gaining a better understanding of the Achievement Gap, the issue plaguing our country that we pledged to fix. We all bonded over the immense uncertainty that were our new lives and at the end of the week we packed up our cars and headed north to the Mississippi Delta.
The next five weeks of June and July were the most challenging, educational, and rewarding I’ve yet to experience. I slept an average of four and a half hours a night. We were always up late working on lesson plans, collaborating with our co-teachers (we were placed in groups of 3-4 teachers per class), or for many of us banging our head on a desk wondering what we had just done with our lives. We woke each morning at ten minutes to 5 a.m. and the four of us in my suite were at breakfast by 5.30 a.m. We boarded our respective buses by 6 a.m. having already collected our lunches and read the morning news sheets which were energetically handed out by Teach for America interns each morning.
We talked or slept or listened to music during the 45 minute ride from Cleveland to Indianola, Mississippi–the hometown of BB King. When we loaded off the bus we were greeted each morning, without fail, by our school team inevitably dancing, cheering, and waving welcoming us back into our school. We spent the first 25 minutes or so preparing our classroom for the day ahead and then one group member went to the cafeteria to meet the kids at breakfast. By 8 a.m. sharp they were in our rooms broken into small groups by level for math and reading enrichment time. After that first hour it was time for their daily reading lesson. While one teacher taught reading the other two went to sessions on everything about teaching from classroom management and organization to diversity to parent interaction, etc. Then we switched and the reading teacher went to a session while the math teachers did their two lessons. The kids were out of school by 1 p.m. and the teachers spent the rest of the day in more workshops, sessions, and one-on-one mentor time. We headed back to our home at the Delta State University campus for more sessions, meetings, small group time, an abbreviated dinner, and more work. It was a rigorous schedule but I have to admit those five weeks flew by and in retrospect (which is of course 20/20) that experience was so rich in learning and growing that I would not trade it for anything.
At the end of Summer Institute, as our five week training program was so affectionately called, we all headed back to our respective regions. We were at Institute with teachers who were placed in Indianapolis, Charlotte, Eastern North Carolina, Nashville, Alabama, Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and of course South Louisiana. We re-packed our cars (a process that had become uncannily familiar) and my friends and I headed back to Baton Rouge, our summer home-base. We had two days off to rest and then it was back into full-swing prepping for the year ahead. We had orientation sessions all week and then at the end of July Teach for America released us into the world. Soon after my roommate and I packed our cars yet again, but this time we also had a rental truck to fill, and we headed the 130 miles northwest up to our new town, Alexandria, Louisiana. She and I are placed about 30 miles southeast of Alexandria in a small town called Marksville in Avoyelles Parish (counties here are referred to as parishes). We are living at a wonderful apartment community in the Lake District called Magnolia Trace (http://www.liveatmagnoliatrace.com/). We have a three bedroom apartment and I’m living with one girl from Michigan who graduated from U of M and is teaching high school science at Marksville High with me and another girl from Indiana who graduated form Purdue and is teaching special-education Pre-K at an elementary school in Avoyelles Parish.
Three years ago the middle school and the high school in Marksville merged into one building, Marksville High School, ((http://marksville.la.ash.schoolinsites.com/) which is located on Bontemps St.–literal translation from French is “good times.” The second week of school just concluded and I am happy to report that these were great times! I absolutely love it so far. The experience is exceeding expectations and although I feel that I have an incredible amount of work to do to improve my lessons and ensure that my students reach our class goal of 90% scoring Mastery on their state-administered exam, I am thrilled with what we’ve accomplished so far.
This year I’m teaching and this year I am teaching two sections of accelerated 7th grade math, one section of accelerated 8th grade math, and two sections of Algebra I (one to 8th graders who are one year ahead and one to 9th graders).For the most part, my students are extremely well behaved and respectful. I’ve started reaching out to parents who are incredibly supportive and impressed that I took time to call and not only tell them about their student but pledge my help with anything to ensure their student’s success. The faculty and staff at the school is another integral part of the support network. Since the first day we met them each and every teacher and administrator welcomed us with open arms and they are more than willing to give us recipes, help with students, and provide a better understanding of how the school operates. On a side note, the demographic breakdown of Marksville the town and the high school are quite similar: the population is a bit over 50% white and a bit under 50% black, very similar to the breakdown of my students.
Each day I wake up so excited to get back to school and be in the classroom learning with my students. The days fly by and I know that I’ll blink and it will be Thanksgiving! We went to the first home football game on Friday night which was great fun but way too hot so I am looking forward to November and cooler weather. I am also looking so forward to spending the next two years in this community and growing as a teacher and a person. The learning curve over the past 84 days was extremely steep and I know that it will only get steeper as the days go by. Here’s to a fantastic year in Marksville! Geaux Tigers!