So I have been in the Delta for 4 weeks now and it has flown by! I have seen things I never thought I would (catfish farms, mosquito spray trucks, the list goes on and on) and have never met such great people. It has already been such an adventure filled with ups and downs that I can’t even start to imagine what the next two years have in store for me.
We spent our first few days in the Delta in Little Rock, AR for Induction. Basically we sat in sessions all day and talked about an insane amount of acronyms, CM, TAL, MTLD, TFA to name a few. Outside of sessions we got to go on a few really cool trips. One day we spent the afternoon at Little Rock Central High. Yeah, the high school that the Little Rock 9 attended. I learned so much there and met some really amazing students but probably the coolest part was that one of the Little Rock 9 attended Michigan State for his bachelors and masters! Spartans Will. Little Rock was awesome but not a true representation of the places we were about to head to since there was a Target and Starbucks…
After Little Rock we headed to our placement sites so I went to Stuttgart, AR, the rice and duck capital of the world! And yes, there are many, many rice fields. It’s a decent sized town, around 9,000 people, but the real indicator of a town’s size down here is whether or not it has a WalMart, which we do. The sense of community there was amazing and we got to meet some students we will be having in our next couple of years and their parents. We spent some time in Pine Bluff, AR which is about 45 minutes from Stuttgart and has a bunch of CMs (corps members) that are cool and we apparently hang out with a lot. Stuttgart was my first experience with a mosquito truck and their disregard of people walking. Getting out of our cars one night the truck drove by and just sprayed us all in the face with bug spray. Usually one would be upset by this but it’s amazing how much you appreciate it when there are constantly about 10 mosquitos on you! Don’t worry, I already carry a mini bottle of bug spray at all times.
So 3 weeks ago we headed to Cleveland, MS for the infamous TFA institute. Having never been to Mississippi I had no idea what to expect from the state but hearing all the institute horror stories (crying and running out of classrooms the first day, getting absolutely no sleep, the list goes on) I was ready. So I thought. To put it succinctly, there are times where I cannot believe this is the same country that Michigan is in. And that is not saying I don’t love it because I do. But woah. This place is fascinating. History is alive here, from driving on the Trail of Tears from Stuttgart to here to teaching in the town where Emmett Till was murdered it is all around you and always in your face.
As is the definite gap in SES. Going to our summer school placement the first day was 50 minutes of rundown downtowns with 20 storefronts and 2 occupied and more fields than I care to ever remember. I am not sure what I thought our classroom would look like but I was shocked at what its state was upon walking in. No whiteboard, only chalkboards. No chalk for the first few days. Then we took our kids to lunch. Half of their apples are rotting on the inside and their milk is expired. But they are great. Not all of time of course, but they are so sweet and I am so sad to be leaving them in 2 weeks.
They say the greatest things, too. One girl was horrified that I had never been to Greenwood, a town about 20 minutes from theirs where they have to go to grocery shop since it is the closest WalMart. She actually stared at me and said, “Ms. Feldscher, you ain’t been to Greenwood? You need to get out!!” How can you not just love them? Well she then wrote on her survey this week when asked if there was anything else she would like to add that, “Sometimes they (the teachers) make me upset by saying that I be rolling my eyes but I don’t be. I don’t even know how to roll my eyes.” She rolls her eyes to the back of her head! Needless to say we had a talk that day about what rolling your eyes looks like. Hasn’t been a problem since. Lesson 1: explain and model to the children their unacceptable behavior. They don’t know it is disrespectful.
But their words aren’t always so sweet. Sometimes they are heartbreaking, like one day when I missed lunch and my stomach growled and a student told me that it’s OK, you get used to being hungry after a while. Or when your student can physically not handle sitting still and falls out of his seat constantly but has no support and is screamed at until he sits. Or when a student is so frustrated by his inability to add 2 odd single digit numbers together because he has never learned the word odd that he is both in tears and trying to punch someone out of shear frustration. Until you take him into the hall, talk to him and ask where he is going to college and his response is Michigan State. Lesson 2: As much as TFA pushes you to collect data from your students about academic growth remember that it is your purpose to make a meaningful connection to keep these kids in school so that you can keep your promise and attend their graduation from Michigan State. (I’m always down for an EL trip!!)
So while some horror stories have been true, I have at minimum 3 lesson plans due everyday and I have to get up at 5 am, usually after going to bed at midnight, many have not. I have not cried because my kids are so terrible (at least not in front of them) but I have cried with them (secretly) at their frustrations because it isn’t fair that they aren’t getting what they need just because they were born somewhere different. They deserve to know that they can go to college. Not even just going, but knowing that they can because that is new news to many of my students. When you have that one little victory that you know will never leave you, through tears hearing that your student wants to go to MSU because somehow in a week and a half you have made that connection makes all the other stuff worth it.