First Teaching Experience: Teach for America Institute - A month and a half in the Mississippi Delta
Where to begin about my time in Mississippi? My time in the Delta was just about the most humbling experience I ever had especially coming from California. After being double wait-listed, about 40 future Houstonian TFA corps members had to be transferred to the Delta institute which was quite a bit of hell I must say. We had to wake up earlier (which meant sleeping earlier and working less), take longer trips to our schools, have terrible cafeteria food, deal with huge mosquitoes and a 110 heat index, and some enjoy a bizarre college campus (Delta State University - home of the fighting Okra). It was quite rough and I'm a bit unsure how people manage to live there their whole lives in southern country.
Which leads me to discuss the Delta a bit further as basically 3rd world America... you haven't seen poverty that has never seen wealth until you go there. As such, it would cost more to demolish buildings than to keep them closed forever and with no industry, I'm not sure what future lies ahead for the children besides getting out. Sure it's the home of BB King (saw him live!) and Morgan Freeman - a couple people journeyed to that Clarksdale juke joint with strange toilets called Ground Zero, and we all did get away to Memphis BBQ (overrated) and Beale Street for the 4th of July.
Around the campus of Delta State University, there were a couple of modern establishments like Lost Dog Pizza and a couple of bars. The bars almost deserve their own barhop but Hey Joe's - a hipster bar with PBR, arcades, bottle chandeliers, and country music trivia - Warehouse - a bar that held LGBT soirees and a far too fancy cocktails - The Pickled Okra - All bottom shelf alcohol and a DJ that went into a cover band late night? - and lastly, Backdraft - A bar that funded the local fire department....also they all close at midnight, Mississippi curfew.
Living in the dorms for institute was hilarious with tons of hookups as peopler were desperate, terrible plumbing (that drainage), strange mosquito repellant trucks, a big TV to watch the Lakers v. Celtics (in which Artest thanked his psychologist), big sports facilities, and the worst/best cafeteria ever. A word on the cafeteria: the salad bar was iceberg thrown together - poor vegetarians, fried chicken was available every meal, bizarre lunches, juice machine gambles (30% juice came out, the other 70% I don't know what it was), and cookies that were like crack (everybody took 4 extra). Also, the printing machines were crazy in how much people needed to make copies and print, which I handled by bringing a printer!
Moving along from this, I think TFA and I had an intriguing start as I'm always outspoken about my views on education whether it be Troy Camp, my own schools, TFA or Grad School. However, TFA soon got over their concerns when they saw me teach our small class of 9 hilarious kids in 3rd grade summer school. We had temper tantrums, moms our own age, respectful religious children, a kid who had to stand up to learn, but was very attached to me, a 9 year old who didn't know the alphabet, kids who might have insulted you (but you didn't understand a word), and one child who I have still tried to keep in contact with for years. As such, not only did I enjoy teaching, but I learned I wasn't half bad at it (thanks to TFA, my Corps Member Advisor, and the on site teacher). And while I hated it at first, including the mad dash to the Air Conditioned buses or watching the sunrise over who knows what, the Delta and more importantly a love of teaching would grow in me within the humidity and heat.
Lastly, I would find a great friendship with my roommate (and a few others) that even lasts today as we both live and hang out in NYC! The Delta was all humbling and learning as I knew the 40 of us would head back into the city of Houston and become far more hardened to see the lowest point of America (I think everyone should see this to know how flawed we really are) and know that we could make a difference there.