This is the first post in a summer-long series of “Eph Diaries” about the experiences of recent Williams grads who have chosen to pursue teaching after graduation. As an ’07 graduate, I just completed my first year in the Mississippi Teacher Corps, a two-year, alternative-route program (similar to Teach for America), which trains and places recent graduates in the critical-needs school districts of Mississippi. I’ll be cross-posting some of my own blog entries from this year, as well as thoughts from other young Ephs in the classrooms. Hopefully our stories, observations, and ideas will provide inspiration for other Williams students who are contemplating a career in education.

Perhaps it seems odd that these entries appear over the summer — school is out, we are not necessarily teaching, and our blog entries will often be outdated. I think, in fact, it is the perfect time for these entries – a time in which students and teachers alike can reflect on the year, on what has (or has not) been accomplished, and on what might be achieved when September rolls around again. To those undergraduates adrift in a sea of career opportunities, summer is the perfect time to begin thinking about the future -and hopefully you might gain some insight from those of us newly “on the job”.

So, without further ado, I will give you an entry of mine, recently written, which was required by my program: a reflection of my first year of teaching. This year, I taught Junior and Senior English at a large high school in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest (if not the poorest) regions in the country. My attempt to reflect on the year is as follows:

a reflection on a first year teaching

It’s difficult to accurately put this year into words. I am in a different place now (in many senses) than I was in March, in December, in September, and I have a hard time remembering what the year has really been like, let alone get it into words.

I feel like I can’t even describe this experience without dipping into time-honored Mississippi Teacher Corps or Teach for America cliches, that of course, don’t do anything justice. To say that it was “a rollercoaster” doesn’t give me (or you) the sense of the mind-numbing, brick-dragging lows or the exuberant, cartwheel highs. To say that it has been “the hardest experience of my life” does not convey the magnitude of something more emotionally challenging than losing my mother, more physically challenging than a summer of full-time ice hockey camps, more socially challenging than middle school, and more mentally challenging than 40 back-to-back weeks of college finals.

To sum up, I went to work every morning (sometimes with optimism and excitement, other times with depression and anger), I taught my students (some motivated, some unmotivated) what I thought they needed to learn (lessons that were well-planned and successful, and others that were chaotic and worthless), and I (gradually) earned their respect (although not all of them). I coached a sport (which was more fun than my day job, but the added stress almost drove me to quit), and I attended all sorts of faculty meetings (which were occasionally fun and helpful, but often boring and frustrating). I did it. I made it.

You won’t find any grandiose, heart-wrenching, “I’m making a difference” type statements, or even the magical “transformation explanation” (in which indebted teacher elaborates on how students have opened her eyes, moved her heart, and changed her very being for their existence). While I have certainly learned (and even, dare I say, changed), to jump into this overly passionate, intangible drivel seems to devalue the concrete task that we are actually trying to accomplish. That is, how can we successfully teach children what they need to know. To quote a favorite blog, this is just a job.

What this experience has done for me: Most importantly, I am now extremely interested in educational issues – on both the policy and pedagogical levels. A conversation with a few fellow teachers over dinner last night reminded me again how much I enjoy thinking critically about, and proposing solutions to, all sorts of problems in our nation’s schools – at a national level right on down to the classroom. It is this desire to fix, to critique, to debate, to reflect, to analyze, to propose and to implement that kept me here as I was on the brink of wandering away. Of course, I probably would have wandered into another facet of education, but one (most likely) without quite the same challenges.

I have no doubt that I will remain active in education in some form or another for a long time to come — if it does not end up as my career, it will most certainly be an outlet for my free time and energy. So in that sense, this year has been wonderful success. I have found something I want to devote my time and skills and energy towards and something that will stay with me long after next year. As far as my teaching goes, I’d like to think I am on my way to a successful second year. I have learned from mistakes, I am ten times the teacher I was in September, and perhaps most importantly, I intend to spend the next few months analyzing, proposing, debating, critiquing and reflecting on all sorts of strategies that I may want to implement come fall….

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