Teaching in Memphis

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 17 2012

“Where y’all teaching at?”

Week one of Institute is done! It feels like years ago that I drove away from comfortable  Minnesota, but it was in fact just shy of two weeks ago. Crazy.

Institute is one of those things that’s built up SO MUCH by so many different people with so many different attitudes that you reach a point where you haven’t got a clue what to expect. Granted, I haven’t actually started teaching yet (that comes Monday!), so everything could still change. But, I will say that my experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I haven’t come even close to pulling an all-nighter (and I know some here have), and I haven’t come even close to wanting to quit (again, I know that some here have). I’ll attribute this largely to my fantastic Corps Member Advisor (CMA), and my stellar teaching team (collab).

We’ve spent the past week learning about everything from vision-setting to lesson planning to classroom management and so much more. We also got to go into our summer school classrooms on Thursday and Friday to start getting everything prepared! Come Monday morning, Room 23A at East Side High School will to welcome eight Algebra I students. (Yup, just eight. Surprising, yes, but room 23B only has five on the roster right now.)

Room 23A

We’ve also had time to relax and unwind. Last night, Delta State University threw the entire lot of us (800 corps members plus 170 staff) a huge party on the quad, including a catfish fry and a live band! It was a great time, AND featured an appearance by Delta State’s unique mascot, the Fighting Okra.

Fighting Okra

After the party on campus, we went to one of Cleveland’s two bars, Hey Joe’s. You can imagine what this place looked like on a Friday night at the end of a long week in which 800 twenty-somethings needed to unwind. (Did I mention there are only two bars in town?) Still, they welcomed us with open arms.

Hey Joe's

Today, I went with a friend down the road to Leland, MS, where we got to check out the Highway 61 Blues Museum. It was fascinating to see how these small towns in Mississippi were truly the birthplace of an entire genre of music! Pat Thomas, the resident blues man gave us each a domino with a marker drawing of a cat on the back, his trademark artwork. For dinner, we ventured further to Greenville, MS, and stopped at Yamato Steakhouse of Japan. Who knew you could get great sushi in rural Mississippi?

On the way back to campus, we stopped in a couple shops. As we walked up to the check-out counter at one, the cashier smiled at us and asked “where y’all teaching at?” Yes, I had my TFA Memphis shirt on, but the TFA part is in really small letters–it really just looks like a shirt with the outline of the state of Tennessee. The point is that the people of the Mississippi Delta know that TFA’s here for the summer, and for the most part, they seem really glad to have us! This cashier went on to tell us that he was planning to invite a bunch of TFA people to his house for a bar-b-que. (We’re hoping to get in on that invitation.) The Southern hospitality is incredible. I’ve been telling people that the South has a lot of what Minnesota claims to have. We’ve got our ‘Minnesota nice,’ right? But really, that just means we’re passive-aggressive, and smile at people when we’re totally judging them inside. Down here, the smallest interaction is a conversation of at least 30 seconds, and people really care about each other. It’s refreshing.

Tomorrow, we’ll all get back to preparing for our students to arrive on Monday. One week down, five to go. Onward!

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