Friday, October 14, 2005


Employees for growing, complex enterprise in a highly regulated industry. Must stay focused on core business despite disparate stakeholder demands, uncertain funding, critical labor shortages, and politically charged environment. Must be highly skilled at dealing with sensitive and divisive issues that may jeopardize relationships, health, and/or career. Must be able to withstand intense scrutiny of professional and personal life. Typical workday: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., plus weekends. College education required. Pay significantly below market rate. Future of nation at stake.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Stages Redux

I asked some of our recent alumni what they thought of the stages post. Matt Alred, Class of 2003, sent in his own, modified version. Enjoy.

I think you got it down pretty good. Here is my run through of what I felt my fellow MTCer's went through. I don't think I really had nearly as much problems as most people. Probably due to over-inflated self-image, laziness, working with crazy people previously, and the innate ability to teach Russian blind monkeys sign langauge in Portuguese through video conferencing with no translators. I mean if you got it then you got it. but I had my days as well.

Stage One:
Anticipation/fantasy just like you said. but it only lasts for about three hours of the 1st day.

Stage two: survival four months, but in first year teacher time: two decades
part one: panic. Frantically attemping to stay a float.
part two: realization: You figure out that you are unable to fix it.
part three: dread: getting up becomes the worst part of the day.

stage three: apathy: days, weeks, months, years, entire careers
human nature tells you that if you can not be successful at something
then you are wasting your time. Days become mundane and repetitive.

dividing factor: some move past this point and many do not

stage four: stoicism: weeks... a month
sense of responsibilty kicks and and although you realize you cant
fix you see that you are the only person even around to try. you see
that from where they are anything is an improvement. So what if they
cant read, they can listen to me atleast. If I cant teach them math or
english I will just be a positive memory in their lives.

stage five: the turn around in a single moment
in the mindset of the stoic, moments when you are not getting
getting your teeth kicked in become elated. small steps start
to show a difference (in your head only) and you realize that you
are here greater purpose. To lead people toward something
better with complete disregard to where you are now. the
connection is hit with a little juice and you learn to deal and
roll and redeal.

Repeat stages 4 & 5 with an occasion splash of 3 and shake. do not stir. until concoction is complete

Monday, October 03, 2005


There are several distinct stages a first-year teacher goes through. Not all teachers go through each stage, and teachers go through each stage at different times but having now worked with three groups of first-year teachers in our program I've come to the conclusion that most of our teachers go through seven distinct stages at roughly the same time.

They are:

Stage One: Anticipation
June through August 15th

This is the summer and the first week or two of school. During the summer you are excited and anxious to start teaching. You are empowered by your motivation to teach, to work with kids, to make a difference. You are excited about living in a new place and you enjoy getting to know the rest of the Teacher Corps members. Once school starts the kids come and they are on their best behavior. The first few days are new and exciting. This lasts for a week. Then...

Stage Two: Survival
August through October

On average the survival stage lasts about two months. Teachers are overwhelmed the first few months with: grading; lesson planning; paperwork; coursework; living in a new place; working in a new place; meeting new coworkers; working for a new boss; finding your way around school; finding your way around town.

Oh, and standing in front of kids all day (who you don't know) and teaching, managing, and generally being responsible for them while they are with you. 70 hour work weeks become the norm. Situations that you didn't anticipate or weren't trained for occur. There is no time. You are completely overwhelmed and just try to keep your head above water.

Stage Three: Apathy
October through December

Apathy covers several things. After about two months you generally become apathetic about your students and your school. "Why do I have ninth graders who can't read? How did this happen? There is nothing I can do."

Or, "The students are so behind. There is nothing I can do."

Or, "Why is this school like this? Things are so disorganized. The bells don't ring on time. There are constant interruptions. There is nothing I can do."

Furthermore, it is at this point that things really get tough. You start to run out of lesson plans and have to stay up late or get up early just to stay one day ahead. Homecoming week happens and that is always a mess. The days get shorter and the weather gets colder. From the weather change and the stress you might get sick. Morale is low. You start to become apathetic about teaching and the Teacher Corps. "I can't do this. It's impossible to make a difference. I could be doing X. Why am I killing myself for kids that don't care about me in a place where I can't make a difference?"

This is your crucible. This is your test. If you make it through this phase you will make it.

The bad news: Apathy generally lasts through December. If a first-year is going to leave it is over Christmas break.

The good news: Apathy doesn't last. After Christmas break it starts to get easier. Things get better.

Stage Four: Comfort (A little bit)
January through March

After Christmas break you start to feel comfortable, a little bit. Several things happen. First, you go home for Christmas break and get recharged. You are with friends and family who love you. You eat. You rest. You start to reflect on some of the things that did go well, and also on some changes you can make.

Second, when you return you find that you have an idea of how the school works. You know who to talk to and where things are.

Third, the kids come back from break on good behavior. They start to become comfortable with you. You are now a known quantity.

You start to feel comfortable. This stage lasts through spring break. All along this stage there are little setbacks. Two steps forward, one step back. But the tide starts to turn.

Stage Five: Caring
April through May

This stage starts after spring break, when the school year starts to fly by. You start to realize that you care about these kids. You like them. You might even miss them over the summer. You can't believe the year is almost over. It all seems to have gone by so fast. This is your school now. These are your kids. You want them to be successful. You see the potential in so many.

Potential they might not even see in themselves.

Stage Six: Reflection

The school year is finished. You exhale. You reflect. You think about what went well and what you can change. You are amazed at your growth and at everything that happened in the past year. You start to think about what you will do differently next year. This leads to...

Stage Seven: Anticipation

Around July you start to anticipate the upcoming year. You plan activities. You think about lessons. You look forward to seeing your students. You're excited for school. You think back and are amazed at how far you have come.

The second year then becomes a progression towards mastery. As I've told many people, when you finish this program you can go anywhere in the country, to any school, and be successful.

Again, not everyone goes through all of these stages and not everyone goes through each stage at the same time. Some of our teachers will stay in the survival stage for awhile. Some in apathy for awhile. Some might be all the way to the caring stage right now.

But there is a general cycle that most people in our program go through. It may only be when you finish that you can step back and recognize it.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


One of the sad truths of teaching is that you will teach kids who die.

My second year teaching was the first time I crossed that unfortunate bridge. A young man named Pieter who was in my tenth-grade English class. He was play-fighting with his cousin and it escalated and his cousin stabbed him. The knife hit an artery and Pieter bled to death on his living room couch.

Of course this was in Africa, and if I start adding up all the kids I taught there who have passed away...

Greg Miles was a senior at Simmons High School my first-year in the Mississippi Teacher Corps, 2000-2001. He was shot to death two weeks ago in Nashville. Greg was a nice kid. He played wide-receiver on the football team. He had a beautiful smile. I had to confront him once about his behavior in the hallway but other than that he was a good kid.

No, let me put it this way, he wasn't a bad kid. He wasn't a nasty kid. He wasn't one that you would predict murder for by the age of 21. But as I tell our teachers, "These kids can slip and fall at moment."

As I sit back and think for a minute of all the people at Simmons who have passed away in the last five years I am amazed.

There was Mrs. Lucas, the lunch lady. She checked into the hospital on a Friday and was gone by Tuesday.

Coach Jimmie Williams, of a heart attack.

Two students: one from an asthma attack after a basketball game and an elementary student who was murdered by her step-father.

The cafeteria dishwasher who was shot to death over a drug deal.

That is just off the top of my head. I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting, or that I don't know of.

When I was growing up I knew two people my own age who passed away: Paul Post, in middle school. He was hit by a car, crossing the street after school. Procter Phelon, the summer after my 11th grade year. He died in a car accident.

In the past five years at Simmons five people who were in the building every day have died. Gone. And that's not counting the new-born babies of some of the students.

And it's not counting the students who graduated.

Like Greg.