Sunday, August 28, 2005


I'm lucky (or maybe just old) in that having been Program Manager for more than two years and having been involved with Teacher Corps for more than five years I'm able to see the "big picture" of what Teacher Corps is accomplishing. Well, maybe the medium picture. I suppose Dr. Mullins, who has been with the program for 16 years, can speak to the big picture. But, by my quick estimation, I have known, taught with, advised, or recruited the last 150 teachers to have come through the program. I started in 2000 so I have known everyone from 1999 (the class ahead of mine) on. One of the things I've seen is that there are certain general trends during the two years that participants tend to go through (not all of the participants, but let's say 90%).

The trend that I'll write about today has to do with the seasons. October is a bear. So is February. For the first-years I always warn them about these two months; they are the cruelest. There are four reasons: The main reason is that these are the only two months with no break. Not even a day off. The weeks stretch out with no relief. Two, is that the newness (from the school year or from Christmas break) has worn off. Three, is that first-years by this point start to run out of lesson plans (if they haven't already). Four, is that the days are short. You come to school and it is dark out. You leave school and it is dark out. October is a bear. So is February.

Conversely, April and May absolutely fly by.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


I started visiting some of the first years this week. I also had to give a talk at the Leland Lions Club so I made Hollandale my "base" for two nights. It was nice to see old friends, and especially former students.

Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors, has a great line about seeing Paris for the first time in a long time at the end of World War II. Something about coming around the bend and over a rise and there it is, the city I love more than any other. I guess that's how I feel about Hollandale. The place I love more than any other. My friends and family think it is a little strange that I should be so attached to a small Delta town. I don't know that I can explain it other than to say that I grew up in a small Vermont town. I like that anywhere I go I'll know someone. I like that I know every single street, and someone who lives on every single street.

But it is also more than that. Hollandale is where I did my best work. I felt more fulfilled there than anywhere.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The First Day

Being on break for a week I've realized that I'm like my dad: when I take a vacation it doesn't mean I don't work, it just means I work less. After going into the office for a few hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I had to force myself not to go in for the rest of the week. Of course, Sunday doesn't count, right?

I've been thinking about the first-years as of late. Some of them started teaching last week. The rest will start this week. I can't remember how I felt the night before my first day of teaching. That would have been in Engela, a small town five kilometers south of the Angolan border in mid-January of 1998. In Southern Africa that is the summertime so I'm sure it was hot and dry.

I do remember how I felt the night before my first day teaching in the Teacher Corps. That would have been early August of 2000 in Hollandale, Mississippi. I didn't sleep. I spent the previous weekend working on my room, getting it just right, going over rosters and names and my lesson plan. I'd always been told that what you did on the first day set the tone for the entire year, and you couldn't ever get it back.

School started in the gymnasium. The principal gathered the staff together before walking into the gym and said, "Don't let the kids go to the bathroom during classtime. They have five minutes between classes to use the restroom." Then we all walked into the gym. We were seated in chairs while all the kids looked us over from the bleachers. Mr. Liddell introduced the teachers (the old favorites got applause) and then called out the students by homeroom teacher. Each teacher dutifully led the students to his or her homeroom.

My homeroom got settled and I briefly introduced myself. Within five minutes Latoya Jackson (that is her real name, although all the kids called her 'Lil Bit' as in, she was a lil bit there) stood up and said, "I need to use the restroom."

"I'm sorry," I said, "but Mr. Liddell instructed us to not let students use the restroom during homeroom or class time. You have five minutes between bells to use it."

Without breaking a sweat Latoya said, "Well, my momma let's me go to the bathroom whenever I want," and walked out.

I thought, oh my God, I've just blown it. I've just set the tone for the entire year. All the kids watched Latoya walk out, and then turned back to me, waiting for my response.

I looked at them and said, "Does anyone else's mom let them use the bathroom whenever they want?"

The kids laughed and it turned out not to be the end of the world. Latoya mostly stayed in trouble and mostly didn't show up for homeroom. I taught her the next year in English III. She failed, but made it up during summer school. She graduated the following year. She is a sweet kid who acts loud so no one will make fun of her. She got pregnant her senior year. Sometimes I run into her when I go back to Hollandale. She always comes over to speak.

So, it turns out that what happens on the first day does not set the tone for the entire year.

However, I bet most of the first-years won't sleep the night before.