Saturday, June 03, 2006

I guess I was a little negative in the last post, so maybe I should write about what I like about Mississippi. First off, everyone’s nice. Everyone will engage you in conversation: the checkout person at Wal-Mart, people around campus and on the street, bartenders and waitresses, fast-food restaurant staff. During all those conversations, I am always called “hon” or “sweetheart” by the women and “sir” by the men. Despite this general kindness, the car salesmen are still snakes. The heat is not (yet) as bad as I’d expected. The women are ridiculously beautiful (as one friend put it, “They put on their makeup to go brush their teeth in the morning”). The accents are not nearly as annoying as I thought they’d be, and have actually turned out to be quite calming. The architecture is beautiful, particularly that of Ole Miss. The town square in Oxford is reassuringly traditional. Almost every meal feels as if it has been home-cooked.

The greatest place to eat around here is called Taylor Grocery. Jon, a fellow member of the program who has been living in north Mississippi for two years, introduced it to me two days ago. The restaurant is one of five buildings in downtown Taylor (pop. 200) and serves the best $5 meal I have ever encountered. For a 5-spot you can get one meat (chicken-fried steak, fried chicken, meatloaf, pork butts), three vegetables (fried okra, mashed potatoes, cabbage, creamed corn, navy beans, etc.), and a dry hunk of cornbread. Water and sweet tea are free. The building itself is appropriately ramshackle: the porch slopes off to one side, the stairs the other; three or four rocking chairs sit on the porch, always inhabited by men complaining about the heat; the door is held shut by a pulley mechanism that is anchored by an empty bottle of Jim Beam; I don’t think the place has been painted since Nixon was in office.

Inside there is writing all over the wall, most of which has to do with fraternities, sororities, and Ole Miss in general. Carved in the wall at numerous spots (as well as in a large font on the floor of the porch) are the letters “CSA.” Along the wall are various paintings of the Grocery, various Ole Miss memorabilia, a great sign that reads “Eat Here Or We Both Starve,” and a photo of Steven Segal when he ate at the Grocery (exactly the kind of C-list celeb that one would expect to find down here). There’s also a painting that consists of the Confederate battle flag, a “CSA” cap, and a magnolia flower. It’s exactly the place Sidney Poitier would have been tossed out of if he had tried to enter during “In the Heat of the Night.”

My peers in the Teacher Corps are quite amazing. I feel as if my resume cannot come close to measuring up to my peers, many of whom have taught before, been in the Peace Corps, and worked in other service-based organizations (one worked with 7-12 year old sex offenders in Memphis). Another one of my classmates went to Harvard Law, hated practicing law, and then decided to become a teacher. I have immediately gained respect for my peers because I have admiration for anyone who would take their overstuffed resume and sign up for this gig. The second year members of the program all seem very accomplished, and regardless of what I think of them outside of the classroom, I am in awe of them when they step in front of a class and begin to speak about lesson planning, their students, or education in general. The two lead teachers of the summer school class I'll be helping to teach (English II) are particularly accomplished. All this said, I am a bit worried (if not surprised) about the general cynicism that has reared its head amongst the 2nd years. However, the cynicism is always about theprocess (i.e. the administration and districts) rather than the students themselves, a nuance that is comforting.

The leaders of the program seem extremely competent and extremely demanding. While I am in awe of the dedication and passion of everyone involved in the Corps, I am particularly mystified by the dedication and passion of those who have been working in Mississippi’s educational system for decades (here I am specifically thinking of the co-director of the Corps, Dr. Andy Mullins). The program manager, Ben Guest, seems demanding, brash, intelligent, dedicated, and (I hope) fair. The professor of my introductory class, Ann Monroe, is excitable and kind. Sometimes I think she is a bit too bubbly, but then I realize that her enthusiasm is the only thing keeping me awake in afternoon class. Thinking of her class makes me realize that I should go and do some lesson planning. More later.


Blogger Mr Khaki Pants said...

Most of us have spent the year succeeding despite our principals and our districts -- not because of them. Forgive us our cynical disdain for failing administrations, and continue to monitor our focus on the children.

In the Delta, negative influences abound -- parents, teachers, and administrators included. We are positive about our students, if negative about their negative influences. Reality. Sensical?

12:14 AM  
Blogger Adam Ewing said...

Sensical? Who knows? But I guess it has to be that way to do this job.

8:52 AM  

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