Miyoko in Mississippi 2010 (Teach For America Corps) II
After her summer 6 week crash course in teacher training, Miyoko was eventually placed (hired by the school district) as a math teacher in the "highly" successful" (by Mississippi standards, 20% male graduation rate), relatively new high school in Jackson (largest city, state capital), MS. Since her preference was to be in the rural/poor(er) Delta region teaching middle school and placed with other TFA colleagues, being a first year, lone TFA teacher in this school in Jackson was going to up the stress and challenge quotient considerably.
Also, what none of us knew, was that it is the universal norm for TFA teachers in the first months of their experience to be, at the end of every day, devastated by the cultural/street environment which the kids inevitably bring into the shool, the massive obstacles facing both them and the students, their lack of practical experience at dealing with those problems, their sense of inadequacy,...in tears. Anyone, months out of college, thrown into a sink-or-swim, on-the-job training to BE a teacher meeting even the minimum structural administrative standards in an IDEAL school would find it seriously challenging. In this environment, with the expectation to not simply meet minimal standards but to be better, to make a "difference, AND to also fulfill an over-lying TFA structure of work, meetings, training and demands ABOVE the full-time school district schedule...it IS overwhelming. TFA dropouts and resignations began as soon as the first week of the school year began. TFA describes this period in the "experience" as SURVIVAL!
It has not, to say the least, been easy. Every single weakness in Miyoko's character, self confidence, self image, and work/effeciency has been skewered and stressed to the max. Becki and I would resort to handing off the dreaded ringing cell phone..."YOU take this one"...referring to yet another desperate, tearful phone call every day. Sunday evenings, Miyoko anticipating having to go back, yet again, into that environment, were always the worst. Through all of this, working late into the nights, the basics of life were a luxury. Miyoko resorted to drinking Ensure on her 20 minute drive to the high school in order to maximize her few hours of sleep time.
I could go on. So far, Mok has survived and endured. Those around her who have been through it tell her (and us) that she is ahead of the curve...that she is doing better than they were at that point. It is, still, day-to-day. There are the precious good moments, the small victories. The pace of tearful and frantic phone calls, few to none of which we can help with or solve, has lessened. In 3 weeks she will be home for Thanksgiving for a week. Three weeks after that she will be home for Xmas break. On such things one hangs hope and rations energy and exhaustion. It IS getting better and it WILL get better, and Mok even has her moments when she believes that.
Into this mutually experienced emotional maelstorm Becki and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia and drove 6 hours to Jackson, crossing Alabama. Our introduction to Alabama was a large billboard asking "Where is the Birth Certificate?".
It would take a book to begin to describe my current feelings about Mississippi. Becki and I LOVED our summer visit to rural, Delta Cleveland. As with that visit where nothing was as I anticipated it would be...to the positive....Jackson was nothing as I anticipated it would be....to the negative. Superficially it appeared to be comfortable, even affluent, with consistently good housing (lowest house costs in the country) with a somewhat glitzy, thick skin of familiar, national chain fast food, retail, and motel strip development. Most instructive was our tour of the old statehouse, a beautiful exhibit, where the obvious historical skeletons were openly displayed and neutrally chronicled, pride or shame, take your pick. Most maddening was listening to the local evenng news and reading the paper. Mississippi will never apologize. Mississipi, its image makers and controllers would have you believe, will never change. If you don't like it...get out. That something like 1/2 of their potential population HAS gotten out bothers them, seemingly, not a whit. That was the point. A 55% Black majority dropped to a manageable 37%...the old power structure intact. That many of those gone, both Black and White, were their best and brightest, or that they are passively and actively avoided by much of the country, they will never admit. That THAT contributes to a deepening poverty (for the majority) they seem to wear with pride. Mississippi is the land of self-fulfilling negative prophecies. Official Mississippi would, right now, pass an amendment stating that Mississippi can opt out and ignore any Federal laws, amendments, or court decisions it does not like. Civil war anyone??