Saturday, May 05, 2007

My MTC Experience

My MTC Experience:

Matthew Lochen

Someone once said that without teachers there would be no doctors, no lawyers, no businessmen, no police officers, no writers, and no athletes. To me, this is an oversimplification. The statement implies that teachers are needed to pass on knowledge, a set of facts necessary to practice medicine, law, business, etc; however, teachers play a much more important, yet less glorifying role. Teachers inspire. Teachers tap into a student’s natural curiosities, hopes, and dreams and push the student toward excellence. The Mississippi Teacher Corps has inspired me and pushed me toward the precipice of excellence.

I am not one to give much credit to fate, but as I write my final essay as a member of the Mississippi Teacher Corps, I find myself reflecting on how I came to be a teacher in Mississippi. During my senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison I felt an unquenchable drive to make a true, lasting difference in the lives of young people. The most effective path towards achieving this end was, in my mind, to inspire children to pursue excellence. By the time I had learned about the Mississippi Teacher Corps, the final application deadline had passed. I was convinced by my significant other to send an inquiry to the program coordinator regarding an extension. Within three weeks, I was on my way to Mississippi to begin the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life.

My first year was the most difficult. While the program gave me the necessary tools to become a great teacher and provided me with a modest amount of experience teaching summer school, nothing could sufficiently prepare me for my first year. There were some days during which I would pray that this was all just a bad dream and that I would wake up living a different life. Those were the days when nothing seemed to go my way. Students were disrespectful and apathetic. Phone calls to parents yielded nothing more than disconnected numbers. A stack of ungraded lab reports and tests threatened to consume my entire existence. Some days I wouldn’t leave school until nine or ten at night, only to return less than eight hours later. All the while staring me right in the face was a poster on my classroom wall that stated, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

As much as I despised that poster during those moments, it was right. There are no shortcuts in the race to catch your students up to the rest of their peers across the nation, but it can be done. One of the greatest experiences of this program was witnessing many of my students overcome adversity. At Southaven High School, my home away from home for the past two years, adversity comes in many different forms. Students resist pressure to be involved with gang activity or they constantly struggle to overcome the effects of poverty. I had one student who managed to get to high school without learning how to read. Of course, these obstacles are compounded by the obstacles facing every adolescent across the globe such as trying to fit in with peers or resisting the urge to engage in sexual activity. With all the adversity facing my students, I am truly humbled and overjoyed when they succeed in the classroom, and what’s more is that they do so on a daily basis.

Through my involvement in the Mississippi Teacher Corps, I have realized one of my lifelong goals; to effect a sustainable change in the lives of young people. My students manifest this change through higher test scores, enhanced curiosity about the world around them, stronger critical thinking skills, and greater self-confidence. Several students have demonstrated my impact on their lives in other ways such as coming to me when they have a problem or need advice or simply telling me that I am their favorite teacher. These rewards more than make up for the late nights at school and the several hundred red pens I’ve gone through grading all those lab reports and tests.

The Mississippi Teacher Corps produced some of the finest teachers I have known and it has been a privilege working and learning along side them throughout the past two years. Not all of them, however, will remain in secondary education. In fact, I am leaving the field to pursue my true dream of becoming a physician. The lessons I have learned through my experience teaching and from my professors have given me a greater understanding of the effects of adversity on the lives of young people, and this is a lesson I know will continue to shape my future for decades to come.