Diary of a First-Year Teacher: The ‘Dramatic Realities’ Kids Face in the Mississippi Delta

A 22-year-old educator in rural Mississippi reflects on putting social injustices aside to become a better teacher.
Students in the Mississippi Delta are faced with challenges many other kids don't have to deal with on a daily basis. (Photo: U. Baumgarten via Getty Images)
Nov 27, 2012

Each week, an anonymous first-grade teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.

Thanksgiving vacation was the first break I'd had since Labor Day. It was a week of refreshment and inspiration filled with coffee and dinner dates with friends. We spent a lot of time catching up on what has happened since graduating six months ago. The time off was a much needed break from my responsibilities and the realities in the Delta. I was reminded of some of the idealistic ideas about education that I had before moving, as well as some of the sparks of passion that had once inspired me.

The last night of my break I shared a dinner with some like-minded peers discussing the school system in Mississippi. The conversation lead, as many do, to the most dramatic realities: corporal punishment and informal re-segregation of schools. Both issues I felt strongly about before coming to the Delta, and yet when they become a part of my everyday life, they became normal.

To see the same reaction I had months ago replicated on the faces of my social justice-seeking peers, I realized the unsettling normalcy that these issues held in my life. Yes, I still cared, but the stress of my day-to-day responsibility of educating my own class, had rightfully taken precedent over the issues of the greater school system.

More: Op-Ed: For First-Year Teachers, It’s Sink or Swim

As I flew back to Mississippi, I had a guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I felt guilty that I can talk about corporal punishment without getting queasy and be matter-of-fact about the unsettling socio-economic and racial lines that divide Delta students between struggling public schools and private academies.

I felt small and insignificant flying high above the great stretches between my hometown and my new home down South, and I wondered what I had accomplished in four months. My students; scores are improving and they are growing in character. But, had I lost sight of my ideals and passions in effort to get from one day to the next? Had I become so distracted with lesson planning that I forgot to pound my fists on my desk each night in rage about the systematic issues my students face?

Well actually, in the best way possible, yes.

I stopped losing sleep over the education gap, so that I could actually do something about it.

I had lost sight of the big picture in effort to be a better a teacher. It was a healthy reminder of what brought me to Mississippi in the first place. I am not going to change the American education system. I can’t. I am one inexperienced, and imperfect first year teacher. My locus of control right now is my classroom and I am making a difference there, albeit smaller and slower than I would often like.

To lose sight of the context, momentarily, to allow myself to focus on improving my craft, is actually a noble choice. I haven’t forgotten about my passions for education reform, but I have instead focused on being the best teacher I can be for my 14 students. I stopped losing sleep over the education gap so that I could actually do something about it.

These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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