There’s been a vast improvement in my life since I last wrote. I am no longer sick, and I will be teaching English. The latter occurred because it turned out TFA slotted a Social Studies Education major to teach English in my same district. The timing of placement and superintendent preferences created the mishap, but due to a talking to the right people it’s been resolved. Needless to say, I’m relieved.
For the past week I’ve been teaching summer school at Gentry High School. I have eleven students who will be juniors in the fall. In the short span of five days I’ve already come to know them a great deal. One student told me, “Mr. Stevens I wish you were staying here in the fall. If you were my teacher I’d come to school everyday.” The novelty of being the new young teacher has its perks. Another student I have, recorded on his goal sheet, that he wants to enter the music industry. He expresses little emotion and is quiet. When I placed information about free music editing software on a post-it and gave it to him, he held it with a huge grin like it was a check for a million dollars. These small moments make the long days of planning worth it.
My days start at 4:45am. I shower (the door to the bathroom revolving as my roommate suite mate and I get ready for the day), run through my checklist to make sure that everything I need is packed up and head off to breakfast by 5:30. Since two Mondays ago they’ve really smoothed the system out, but for awhile getting breakfast was the day’s greatest challenge. Some 800 Corps Members (CMs) surge outside the cafeteria. They flick off mosquitoes and move from foot to foot as if a hop-scotch game were starting at any moment. We all stink of bugs spray and nostalgically think back to the bliss of having one’s eyes closed. Once inside a breakfast of eggs, biscuits, potatoes and fruit were assembled. The mass of people splitting off with plates, coffee cops, backpacks, and sacks full of supplies precariously balanced in hand. We all bus our dishes and rush around the corner to fill up our Delta State lunch boxes. Some take more than the recommended number of items from each table. They snatch quickly and glance around careful not to make eye contact with other CMs, out of shame or anxiety about the implications of conspiracy one could not say. From there we flood out to the lot full of school buses. A staff member stands in front of a huge stereo with an iPod plugged into it. Music blasts us as were handed a news brief, and the sun begins to sneak into the world making the sky glow gun metal gray. Piled on the buses we head out one by one to our school sites. Crammed into the gray seats tattooed by student graffiti (usually a students name followed by profanity).Some sleep, some type frantically on their laptops and others listen to music and watch the fields roll by. The forty five minute bus ride is nothing. Distance no longer has the impact it did up north because there’s so little traffic. The scenery outside the windows is gorgeous and expansive. You can see ten miles (as the crow flies) in each direction, and that is quite relaxing. The fields are primarily populated with corn, cotton and soy beans. The green so bright it’s startling.
We roll into Gentry at 7:00am if not earlier and all march to our classrooms after signing in. Everyone – and I really mean everyone – is excited to be there. The enthusiasm of some forty type A high achieving people is contagious. At 7:30 we start school duty, running the cafeteria for breakfast, ushering students off their bus and holding them until the 7:55 bell. At 12:15 students break for lunch and we resume our responsibilities until 1pm, when we escort the last student through the smoldering parking lot and onto their bus. The school is almost entirely run by TFA staff, and the logistics behind it give me a headache, but we have an amazing school organizer. After that we’re in development sessions until 4:30, we take the bus home eat dinner and lesson plan, submit data and have meetings back on campus or additional sessions until 9:30. 4:45am comes pretty fast after that.
Gentry High School is a humbling place. There are no overhead projectors. The school looks like it got in a bad fight twenty years ago and never sought medical assistance, but it has charm and the people working there add to it. In the cafeteria there are numerous posters warning against pregnancy. One (photo to come soon) features an African-American girl from 1983 dressed in a plaid shirt with her hair done up. The top says it only takes once. She’s pictured weight shifted on one foot, hands on hips, eight times. Her expression shifts slightly in each one. Emblazoned above each pose is the word “NO” seven times. On the eighth it changes to “YES” and she’s pregnant.
Upon entering the school you encounter the trophy case and graduating class photos and Mississippi humidity. Thankfully the classrooms are well air conditioned. Our classroom (room 18) works great though. We have a huge white board and no broken windows. We have a college scholars and Shout-out board to encourage our students. In five short days the room feels like our room.
There’s more to tell. I’ll write soon. Mississippi is growing on me, and TFA is really giving me the growth I sought when I started the drive down here on June 6th. I hope life is going well for you all where ever this letter finds you. Your support and kinds words have been much appreciated.