Man, every day so far (it's only been two) has been amazing for many many reasons but ultimately it's because the other Delta corps members (CMs) and their constant excitement and banter with me that has made these few days easy. My roommate and I, both teaching in Jackson, MS are able to hash out all our thoughts and ideas about the Delta and what it might be like in Jackson. We're all normal people and the majority of CMs that I have met don't think we're superheroes and we understand that we'll have shortfalls in this upcoming summer and two years.
Now, I'm not going to keep talking about how amazing everyone is. Y'all understand that TFA hires a specific type of person and conveniently, we all get a long. I'd like to talk about Po' Monkey though...
Why, yes, Po' Monkey.
Po' Monkey (actually Poor Monkey, but we're in the South and nothing sounds like it's spelled) is a local bar with real people from the Delta area. It's small, maybe the size of your kitchen, or maybe the size of your living room (whichever is about 15' x 25'). The dance floor was even smaller, I swear it was the size of your bathroom. Mhm, that's means you don't have room to breath unless you're standing on that toilet.
In all reality, it's a small place (here's a link to a little 3 minute video about Po' Monkey! I've already re-watched several times since I love it) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4jymmre-l8
The reason I bring up Po' Monkey is because I had fun real southerners. Yes, they might have been in their early 30s or perhaps older but to dance with them was truly a great experience. One black lady had never seen a white boy shake it and ultimately I became the first white boy to dance with her. It's a different world people. We've got to make the new community also see our true selves (with some boundaries in a cultural context).
Po' Monkey gave a shout out to the TFA Delta CMs and made us feel welcomed. It was amazing to be new to the area and already be taking in this staple of MS culture. Did I mention the stuffed animal monkey's hanging from every crevice in the ceiling? Yup, I danced with them too, but mostly because I was too tall.
The nitty-gritty of my day in Induction? Sessions have been some real defining moments to start my experience in the Delta. We're were challenged to think about how pop-culture portrays the Delta (Kenny Chesney's - She Thinks My Tractors Sexy, or O Brother Where Art Thou?). We visited a school in several counties, mine which was Quitman County Elementary School. And we were asked to think about ourselves as growth mindsets rather than fixed mindsets.
During my visit to the elementary school, we met some amazing little cheerleaders who were the first Black squad to win the state championship and then went on to become the 8th best squad in the world. This squad was started by a TFA corps member. It was amazing to talk with these youngins' and to start a little competition of "Who has the best Cheerleading Jumps -- Joshua, a tall (getting older) guy from MA, or the girls who placed 8th in the world" I'm happy to announce that the girls won, but it was amazing to be able to connect to some students already and to get not only them but their current coach (who isn't TFA) excited about us all coming into their communities by sharing our similarities and connecting!
The panel that spoke to us shared that we are part of their community, but only as much as we try. We are different, we will get weird looks, we will be asked who we are and why we're in the MS Delta because we clearly aren't locals. They explained that this provides us an opportunity to bring students a new perspective, to open their eyes and expose them to new things and people. But it's not just the students, but we're a challenge for the communities to open up as well since many communities have members that have never left the South and don't know anything different. Although we were told that we can make change in the community, our panel said we can only make this change through becoming something larger than the TFA community and something smaller than our community which is the local one. To be a part of such a large movement, I believe some people forget about the smaller communities that we are moving into and looking to become a part of it. We shouldn't forget that we're moving into their home. We're brining new things to their place of work, play and learning. Being different gives us the ability to strike up conversations in the coffee shops and bring new joy to people in our areas. And we must do just that -- already prevent ourselves from becoming self-contained and look to be a part of something more important, a community.
Along the same lines, growth mindsets are a way of thinking that intelligence can grow if you try hard enough. Fixed mindsets are believing that intelligence is innate and can not grow. We all come into TFA believing that our children are growth beings, but I think a lot of TFA CMs forget that we too must be growth beings (those of growth mindsets) if we are to actually do well and make progress toward our goal. We come in with great experiences, but hardly any of us have experience in the classroom and those of us that do still don't know what is best for their future students. This means that we must think of ourselves as people that will grow through failure and acceptance -- moments of pure bliss and complete strife in the classroom. I'm hoping I see a lot of my fellow CMs start to look at themselves as always learning and still naive so that they can make strides in intelligence just like our kids, but for the betterment of our teaching for those kids.
Lastly, we will face challenges that our communities will sometimes have fixed mindsets. They'll believe that there is no way out of this education inequity because they are so used to it. They've been primed to believe that their intelligence is stuck and so is their future -- to return to the Delta where there is no economic powerhouse that shares in and promotes the growth. Unfortunately, most towns and cities employ more people in their school systems than any other area. There are no factories and if there are one or two, they're in rich suburbs that attracted them due to the already sustaining wealth. I can't way to see my area in Jackson go from fixed to growth and to bring together my community.
Jackson, MS may not be in the Delta technically but they suffer from the same things. It's the perfect time for a new corps of 43 people to go into the schools since Jackson is finally opening up to TFA. But it's still young in the city and there are many people that don't know what we are doing and some that may believe we are hurting their children. We have the chance, in Jackson, to change the perception of education and TFA and to push students up toward success but hopefully bring them back to the Delta to make further change beyond my time. There are a of thoughts about my placement in Jackson that I'll talk about in another blog post because I'm still developing my perceptions of my placement but I'm happy to say that I'm more excited than ever through talking with formed CMs that were the original corps in 08!
Until my next dance off!