Sunday, November 05, 2006

Coaching Cross Country

The Cross Country season is over. We just competed in the state meet yesterday, and while I like to think we did well, the reality is that our boys team came in 20th out of 23 and our girls didn't even score as a team. Ouch. The season ended on a sour note with one of our girls backing out at the very last minute and ruining any hopes for our girls to run as a team. In cross country, you have to have a minimum of 5 runners to be scored as a team. If you have less than 5, the runners will be entered individually. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when I heard that one of our girls who had run all season decided not to go to the state meet just because she had crew practice. It really showed a lack of loyalty to the team. Team comraderie and sportmanship are two characteristics that both Kate and I tried to instill in our runners and to some extent it worked; however, if you really step back and take a look at the big picture I think this is the one area we clearly failed especially with the girls. There was just so much complaining and whining among them. That is not to say every girl had a poor attitude but a good number of them had their moments.

Beyond the lack of sportsmanship and dedication on the girl's team, I had a blast coaching this year, even if we did score 20th at the state meet. Coaching has really brought me a lot closer to some of my past students. I know what they value, who their friends are and I've even dolled out advice to two of them during times of struggle. I truly felt as if I was making a difference through coaching cross country, and a large part of me is sad to see it go. It will be nice to get home at a decent hour though.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Quitting the Corps

Last year I was presented with a wonderful opportunity, an opportunity that did not involve teaching high school students in Southaven, MS. After a very difficult first year as a teacher, the opportunity to chase another dream was more than enticing. But I didn't. After two months (no exaggeration) of going back and forth between quitting the teacher corps and finishing my second year, after two months of restless nights, after two months of what seemed like an insurmountable burden weighing on my shoulders, I had finally made the decision. I would continue with the program and teach another year. I thought about the work that I had already invested into the Mississippi Teacher Corps. It's true that I didn't want all that effort to be for naught. I thought about earning a Masters degree in Education. Yes, that may come in handy some day and look impressive on a resume. I thought about the commitment which is so engrained in all of us from day one that we feel like we've been sentenced for two years of teaching rather than choosing to serve for two years as a teacher. I thought about my school and how they would have to work to find another teacher to fill my place. I thought about a lot of reasons why I should stay in the program, and at the time I made my decision I couldn't tell you why I made the decision I did. Only after several months of being a second year teacher can I put my finger on the exact reason I chose to stay in Mississippi. Yes, to some extent it involves all of the above, but while good reasons, these are only half of the picture. Let's face it. If I had left the program half way through I wouldn't have had to work as hard on my current graduate classes. In fact, I wouldn't have to invest any time and energy into the program. Furthermore, I don't need a Masters in Education. Plain and simple. At the time, I felt a little betrayed by the program anyway so breaking my commitment wouldn't have been the end of the world.

I stayed because for once in my life I had the ability to really affect change. Remember how I said that I couldn't tell you why I stayed until a few months into my second year? During your second year, you begin to see the fruits of your labor. Students who were in your class last year come to your classroom and express gratitude for going the extra mile in the classroom and teaching them beyond the text-book, and as a result they are excelling in more advanced science classes. Students all across the school begin to take you seriously. You came back. Now you're a real teacher and worthy of at least a smattering of respect. Your old students pop their heads into your class just to say hi and see how it's going. Students from your first year sign up for your cross country team because they think you'd be a cool coach because let's face it, you were a cool teacher. And students literally beg you to come back for a third year because they want YOU and only YOU to teach them Environmental Science and be their Cross Country coach.

These are the reasons I stayed for a second year. Did I know any of this at the time I made my decision? No I didn't. I wished for these things. Will any of you first years have these experiences during your first year? Probably not. But when you think about quitting, just know that it takes time to earn the respect of students. It takes time to know that you're making a difference. If all the rewards of teaching came over night, we wouldn't have such a shortage of teachers. Hang in there. We have all been there and some of us are still having difficulty making it through each day. I will be the first to admit it. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.