It seems like such a long time ago when I walked to the upper floor of the Union on the campus of Ole Miss to sit in a room with the people who would become my new classmates. I remember walking in thinking that I was such a big deal. I had received two bachelor’s degrees the previous May, was in a graduate program run by the school I had attended while still an undergraduate, and simply knew that I was going to be the best thing the program had ever seen. After the inevitably awkward introductions, we had a tour of campus. Of course, I was brimming with confidence the whole time because I knew where every single thing on campus was and could usually provide some additional factoids on the different sites that Dr. Mullins took us.
I also remember meeting the second years. I remember them lounging in their chairs, looking smugly up at us as if they could not be more amused. As we filed into the room and stood before them, it felt like we had suddenly been unscrupulously swept into a police lineup for committing some crime unbeknownst to us. Even though I could not shake the eery feeling I got as their eyes bore into us with what seemed to be a foreshadowing of foreboding, I still felt confident as I went into my first day of summer school.
That first summer at Holly Springs High School seems like such a blur now, but I remember it being, at the time, my worst experience with education I had ever had. It seemed to creep along forever. There were 30 students crammed into my room, I was terrible at planning and preparing, I was so nervous and unsure every time I stepped in front of the class, I had terrible classroom management, I was barely getting by on the summer school evaluations which were set up to let me do well, and I was getting thrashed on all of the role plays we did with the team teachers. Confidence had long flown out of the window. I was lost and simply did not know what to do. When summer school ended, there was no moment of clarity, no great awakening, no “fill-in-the-blank” cliché of me suddenly realizing how to be a good teacher. I had begun as a terrible teacher and had only budged in a positive direction by the time summer school ended.
Need I go into much detail about my first year at North Panola High School? Is it not already so painfully obvious how I fared? Summer school was a breeze compared to this craziness. Summer school lasted half a normal school day, I only had to teach one or two lessons per day, and I had an administration that would back me up every single time unless I did something way out of line. North Panola was a completely different type of nightmare. It was scarier, way longer, and by far more difficult than anything summer school could throw at me. It is a bit of a testament to how far I have come, but I look back at how challenged I was by my first summer school experience and just laugh at myself from that time. Granted, I still have a long way to go on this most arduous journey of becoming a good teacher, but I am light years ahead of where I was then. Anyway, I had the support of my family and friends, but they had absolutely no idea the hell I was going through. Not that it was their fault, though. Even when they asked how school was going, I could only get out small mutterings of something displeasing going on here or something unbelievably disrespectful going on there. They could tell that I was unhappy, but, without the ability to elaborate more on what I was going through, I was not capable of truly giving them a sense of just how bad my situation was.
As bad as everything was my first school year, when late May rolled around and I realized that I was actually going to wake up from my nightmare, that the light at the end of the tunnel I had been seeing since mid-March was finally before me, I could not help but feel a nearly overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had faced and conquered (in my own bumbling way) the most grueling challenge that I had ever been put in front of me in my entire life.
The second summer was my turning point, though it did not happen right away. I came in with flashes of the previous summer going through my head. I actually had recurring nightmares of situations where my management got so bad that I lost control of the class. I was so worried that I was going to make a bad impression on my first year teachers and my team teacher. Titles of some nonexistent newspaper raced through my mind reading “Kevan Wright: Worst Second Year Teacher in MTC History!” I did the rules and procedures lesson to open our class for the summer. I was nervous, but it was a lesson I had done several times during the previous school year. When my team teacher, the great Ms. Kuriakose, said that I had set a good tone for the class, I do not think she realized the great weight she took off my shoulders. I was amazed at how the students were so much more quiet during my lessons than I was used to. It was as if it was the most obvious thing in the world that I was a second year teacher and that my first year teachers were on their first go-around. Before this, my confidence had been completely shot, but now it had been given a shot in the arm. I only gained confidence and improved my teaching (due to a big improvement in my classroom management) as the summer progressed. That second summer was what really allowed me to plant the seeds for my continued improvement into my second year.
I suppose the above paragraph is sort of my pitch for the perpetual continuation of second year teachers at summer school. I have no intention of bashing the idea put forward by some of the MTC higher-ups that second years should no longer attend summer school because it certainly is not my place to do so. I also realize that my experience is merely anecdotal. However, if I had only seen my first team teacher, Ms. Hall, teach and not my second years, Ms. Sharpe (who was good enough as it was) and Ms. Lunsford, then I would have been even more lost than I was. Not because Ms. Hall was a bad team teacher; quite the opposite. She was ingenious with her methods, but they were things that I simply was unable to replicate. I needed to see how I might get to the point of being as good as Ms. Hall (still working at it!). To use a metaphor, if I was point A and Ms. Hall was point Z, then I think it really helped me seeing points L and S along the way to point Z. The idea that the first years need to teach as many lessons as possible their first summer makes perfect sense, but if you are like me and are bad to begin with, then getting an extra 5-10 lessons in the stifling environment provided by Holly Springs Summer School is more or less worthless in my humble opinion. At least in my case, I still would have been an awful teacher. What’s more, coming back to summer school as a second year teacher, being given the chance to restart a class in a protected environment, and seeing how much I had improved compared to my first summer allowed me to really begin to flourish. It’s an experience that I have found to be truly invaluable. Like I said before, I am not trying to put down the idea. I would just like to urge people in MTC to not forget that second year teachers are still under their wing and still need help themselves.
My second year has been a marked improvement, but still predictable. I set a good tone early for the class and kept up great classroom management for a while, but it slowly started to crumble as the year progressed. Still, in my mind I have grown from being a terrible teacher to an acceptably poor teacher. There is still a lot of work to do, but I am definitely heading in the right direction.
It feels weird writing a blog that is meant to wrap up my experience in MTC. Sure, I won’t have any more classes to take after this semester is over, but MTC is going to be a big part of my life for at least one more year since I will be teaching a third year at North Panola. One true blessing about being sent to the North Panola school district is that it has proven to be a big hub for MTC teachers over the past few years. This year alone we have 15 MTC or former MTC teachers in the school district. Having such a presence in the school district on top of all the support provided by these wonderful people has helped me to no end. I sometimes wonder if I even would have made it through my first year without all of their encouragement. Honestly, though, I feel like MTC is going to be a big part of my life as long as I am alive. My experiences, though sometimes unpleasant, have certainly been unforgettable.
TL;DR: Teaching was the biggest challenge I have ever faced in my life. However, through the support of people in MTC and sheer will power I overcame that challenge, and even got to be where I wasn’t such a bad teacher. Who knows? With enough practice at this, I might even become good at it one day!