As I insinuated on the previous post, I have ridden some bumpy road (as was literally the case every morning riding the school bus to teach summer school at Quitman County Elementary School) while here at Delta State. The uneasiness about joining TFA started with a pretty foolish blunder on my part during the application process.
During my interview at Purdue, my interviewers told me and the rest of the prospective CMs about the Mississippi Delta. They explained that the Delta was a high-priority region that needed as many corps members as they could get. After being accepted into TFA I answered the call of arms by checking the Delta as my top preference (along with Nashville, Colorado, Chicago, and Indianapolis). Of course, I ended up getting the Delta since it was a high-priority region and I was excited about that. I took a bike trip through the state of Mississippi the prior summer and loved the Mississippian countryside and its inhabitants. Everywhere I stopped with my biking crew, we were treated with with warm Southern hospitality that I experienced in other states like Tennessee and Texas. My warm fuzzy feelings of that experience motivated me to check the Delta on my preference list.
Everything was great until I realized my big blunder. I did not consult with Mae, my girlfriend, about my decision to list the Delta as my top preference. In fact, I had not seriously discuss with her or anyone for that matter where I wanted to teach. Whoops, no big deal right?. Wrong! WHAT WAS I THINKING?! It did not really connect in my mind that this preference list decision would impact my life and those around me for the next two years. I just clicked the “Delta” square because I had that warm, fuzzy feeling inside that it would be a good place to teach.
Fast-forward seven months later, I am sitting in my cramped Delta State dorm room (though very nicely air-conditioned) with 693 miles of highway separating me and Mae. This situation will be the norm for the next two years as I work in Lexington while she finishes her schooling and then, hopefully, goes on to do CitiYear in San Antonio, Texas for the one-year commitment. In hindsight, I understand the seriousness of my decision to check that Delta box.
Do I regret it? Yes and no. Yes, because I am so far away from all of my loved ones and have been lonely here at times in Mississippi. My brother lives in California, my parents in Boston, and all my closest friends in Indiana. It has been lonely in Mississippi even with three hundred twenty-something year olds surrounding me on a college campus. I just haven’t made those intimate connections and relationships with anyone here on campus with maybe the exception of my CMA group. Almost all of them are gone now in their respective regions, so it seems like I am starting from square one again during First Eight Weeks Kick-off. Being lonely has been the biggest struggle of my time here in Mississippi.
I was blessed enough to have a wonderful fifth grade summer school class, a fantastic co-lab, a brilliant CMA, and a grand ole’ time at my summer school site in Quitman County. Because of this, I always felt like I was in my element while teaching at Quitman. I WAS a teacher and believed that vigorously. I managed my classroom very well. I reached out to parents and planned effectively. I learned from my mistakes and executed subsequent lesson plans effectively. I consumed all the content sessions like a twelve pack of Mountain Dew. I yearned for more knowledge about teaching.
My experience during off-hours at Delta Institute was a slightly different story. I was emerged into a different world, a world that I didn’t really engage with while at Purdue with the exception of my freshman year (unwillingly, I might add). Institute had all the makings of another freshman year. People acted awkwardly friendly toward each other with the same introductory spiel, “Hey I’m (First name) (Last name)! I’m from (insert hometown) but went to school (insert college). I’m teaching (insert subject) at (insert teaching placement).” People quickly formed social niches based on fall placement region and city, content area, and Institute summer school placement site. As these niches were in embryo stage, they soon became solidified through vast amounts of alcohol consumption. At times the dorm hall felt more like a fraternity house than a hall of “professional in-service teachers” as random beer bottles acumulated outside my room from random party-ers the night before. I’m not necessarily making a negative judgment of my fellow TFAers actions here.
Well, on second thought I was disturbed by the fact that so many corp members coped with the stresses of Institute by getting completely wasted at public places in Cleveland. I heard so many corps members say something to the effect of, “Man, I can’t wait until the weekend so I can get wasted! I need a break from the kids!” I understand if you need to let your hair down a little, but being inebriated in a public restaurant where parents and their children are eating is not a good way to portray TFA to the community. I was just suprised at how SIMILAR the experience was to my freshman year on campus…my least favorite year of college, by the way.
So while some CMs and CMAs were obnoxiously (and irresponsibly) partying all the time, others were making social connections through more sophisticated means (at impact groups, at dinner, etc.). I felt left behind in the grand socialization experiment. I don’t really want to attribute blame for this fact as I can see no blame to be caste on others or myself. I just felt like I didn’t really belong with the people at Delta Institute for the longest time. I could have made a bigger effort to reach out to others but found myself exhausted and frustrated when I did try to reach out to those closest by, partially because of the alcohol issue. I met some success by forming close bonds with my roommate and a few other hall mates (all incredible people who inspire me every day to be a better teacher), but I cannot say ten years from now that I will stay in contact with anyone from Institute. I just didn’t make any impactful relationships while here, which was disappointing because I envisioned this time as being something quite the opposite.
Nevertheless, there was some silver lining out of my Institute experience. Which brings me back to my original question…did I regret coming here? In the scheme of things I think Institute was a beneficial experience for me. I’ll explain more tomorrow.
Now for your thought of the day! (Kevin, the thought-of-the-day guy, led one of my sessions today at First Eight Weeks Kick-off! I was ecstatic to say the least.)
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey, prominent education philosopher