Sunday, August 06, 2006

It is now Saturday afternoon, and I have been teaching for two weeks. I hope that "my first two weeks as a teacher" is enough to excuse my lack of posting over the past month. Over the next few days, I hope to make up for my electronic absence by posting a number of installments that describe my first days and weeks as a high school English teacher.

On the Thursday before the Monday classes began, we had "Meet the Teachers" afternoon at my high school. From 1 in the afternoon to 6:00 in the evening, I remained in my classroom while parent after parent streamed in, wanting to meet the new teacher from Boston (a few parents tried their hand at what they perceived as a "Boston accent" - I didn't have the heart to tell them they sounded more like retarded seagulls and less like Murph from Revere). About 2/3rds of the parents brought their children - my students - with them, so I had the opportunity to meet about 30 of my kids. On a couple of occasions, students entered my classroom sans parents. Nearly all the parents seemed cordial and supportive, and the questions they asked were pointed and pertinent.

For the large part, the students seemed very respectful and attentive. Though much of this respect and attention may have been largely a result of the fact that their parents were standing not five feet from them, my students still seemed genuinely excited for the upcoming school year. Of those I met on Thursday, the students I liked the best were those who exhibited a bit of personality and were willing to playfully "challenge" either me or their parents. It's wonderful to see their brains working hard to develop a witty retort or intelligent comment.

I met a number of parents and students who would be new to my school, as they had made the decision to transfer from one of the local private (read: white) academies to their public high school. The parents - and, surprisingly, some of my students - were very forthcoming about the academic deficiencies of their previous schools. One student readily admitted that she had not covered any grammar or vocabulary in her freshman English class at some local academy.

The willingness of those parents to remove their children from the private (white) academies and place them in the local public school is heartening; it points to two positive developments. First, the public schools in my district - in particular, my high school - are improving enough to make them a viable option for parents who were previously skittish about entrusting their children to our care. Second, it perhaps hints at a revolution in the thinking of this new generation of Mississippi parents; does the willingness of those parents to send their white sons and daughters to school with black children mean that they are finally either a) valuing issues of education over issues of race, or b) race is dying as an issue altogether? I don't know the answer, but it is nice that the evidence allows for the formation of such a hypothesis.

One of the parents who visited my classroom is deaf. To see daughter (who will be in my Accelerated English II class) lovingly translate for mother was a heartening experience, particularly when those of us in the Corps are continually reminded of this area's broken familial bonds.

I realize that my visitors on that Thursday probably represented the best of my community, as they are the parents who are taking an active interest in the education of their children. However, that caveat did not damper my excitement for the first day of classes and the entire school year.


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