Teacher Boot Camp in the Swamp

Delta State University Welcomes Teach for America!

 I smile as I read the large banner near the entrance of the small, Southern university. I'm really here, I guess there's no turning back now. I breathe deeply as I pull into the Mississippi Delta for five weeks of intensive teacher training. I instantly miss Chicago as I park and step out into early southern summer humidity.

"Ah! It's too hot to exist!" I exclaim loudly as soon as I step out of my car, shrieking and bouncing from foot to foot as sweat instantly starts to form on my forehead. The worker in charge of telling me where to check in looks at me with a smile and shakes his head. "You're not from around here, are you?" he asks politely.

"I'm from further south, lower Alabama," I say with a smile as he looks at my license plate in confusion. "I've been in Chicago for almost seven years now, but I'm from Fairhope. I haven't been home for a summer in all that time though, just Christmas, so I'm not used to this kind of crazy heat anymore!"

He nods in appreciation and understanding. "Yeah, you'll get used to it again." I walk away to register my car and myself, about to begin a crazy five weeks that I have been informed of and warned about for months.

I check in and four young boy scouts are waiting for me eagerly. "We're here to help take your bags from your car to your dorm, ma'am!" Said the tallest one.

"Oh, awesome!" I reply, incredibly grateful for not having to sweatily carry my two suitcases, printer, duffle bag, laptop bag, and crates in single-handedly. If only I'd known then that this would be the best part of my TFA journey - being greeted by kind, portly boy scouts when I was tired, but eager.

When I settle into my room, a single, I look at the stack of paper work I'd been given and realize that I'm teaching 5th grade math at Parkes Elementary School for four weeks. Grow Pride! But I'm going to be teaching freshman science in region...

"You'll be team teaching within a four person collab," says my Corps Member Advisor, Janette, AKA, my new best friend. Keep in mind, I absolutely adored every single member of the Parkes team, but that does not mean that Institute was at all helpful in preparing me for teaching in my region.

I taught for 50 minutes each day of whole group math to ten rising fifth graders. I also taught with my collab one hour of small group instruction, which gave me lots of time to get to know my students. Very different to the back to back six periods a day that I teach here in Kentucky with weekly PLC meetings, regular professional development for both my school and TFA, lesson planning, grading, reaching out to parents, helping students make up work when they miss (and they miss a lot), and generally being on the go from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Teaching is exhausting.

At Parkes, I taught during my time slot, planned and/or observed other teachers when I wasn't teaching, took a break when I got back to DSU's campus, and then started my 3-6 p.m. bid as a student again in TFA led lectures. Was it an interesting experience where I loved my ten kids, taught multiplying and dividing with colorful manipulatives, and got to feel like I was in college again? Yep yeppers. Did it adequately prepare me for having my own classroom of 140+ teenagers, teaching rigorous scientific concepts, being on my feet all day, and meeting demands of my school and TFA? Heck to the no.

The military style approach to Institute gets you ready for the firing squad that you'll be in front of in the fall, but other than that, it's a pretty useless time. Institute focuses on why you should teach, but never how to teach or what you will actually be teaching. If I were just going off of my Institute experience, I would have thought that race would be a MUCH bigger factor than it is; especially since we had twice weekly Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness (DEI) meetings that should really have been called, "How White People Have Been Bad for All Other Races Since the Dawn of Time" meetings. However, I'm black and I've seen Pocahontas, so I got that memo a long time ago, and I am also now the only teacher of color in my school in Kentucky for a 99 percent white student population.

Even so, race is not the enormous issue TFA would have led me to believe. Do I wish I were in front of students who look like me? YES! Is that going to happen in eastern Kentucky? I really hope not. Appalachia is not ready for a large Afro population - the confederate flags painted, waving, and mosaic'd everywhere alert me to that.

Ultimately, In
stitute was fun, semi-informative, but fairly ineffective in training new teachers. Summer well spent! However, I will always happily chant for Parkes and keep those kids in my heart. When I say "grow!" you say "pride"...