Mr. Dittmar's Classroom
(With due apologies in advance for my verboseness.)
My name is Andrew Dittmar, and I am exactly one week into my commitment as a Teach for America corps member. As a part of TFA, I am teaching high school English in Shaw, Mississippi, a small, predominantly rural town some one hundred miles south of Memphis, TN.
Over the past week, I've met and started to get to know my students. This semester my students are a rowdy group of ninth grade spitfires. They are artists, musicians, and athletes. They are future leaders. They are absolutely hilarious. And, for the most part, they have accepted the quirks that come with having a first-time teacher with humor and grace. Cases in point: thus far I have lost a contact lens in front of them, faceplanted in front of them, dropped untold numbers of things in front of them, and taught an entire class with my shirt sticking out of the fly of my pants. When I had a booger coming out of my nose, they told me to blow it. When I tried to rap, they laughed.
Most of these students have not had anything near the kind fo educational experience I have had. The district I teach in has very high teacher turnover. Classes that I was able to participate in - even some of the essentials like social studies, let alone electives - have been dropped in favor of further emphasis on tested subjects. Their reading levels are all over the place - from many years below grade level to handful that are several years above level.
As an English teacher, I have a tremendous responsibility: I want to share with them the stories of the world, and simultaneously equip them with the ability to share their own stories. Even in the last week, they have shared incredible things with me. It is my hope and prayer to give them the best education possible.
Shaw is situated squarely within the Mississippi Delta, which is a tremendously unique part of the United States. It's often remarkable to me that bustling metropolises just hours away - places like Nashville and Dallas - exist within the same country as the Mississippi Delta. As I said previously, it's largely rural - this is some of the most fertile farming land in the United States.
It is also an area where poverty, amongst other vices, thrives. A 2014 CNN report noted that "some of America's most brutal, entrenched poverty and racism thrives here." Just ten miles up the road lies the Cleveland, Mississippi school district - the district that ignited national headlines a few months ago after courts ordered the town to desegregate its schools, 62 years after Brown versus Board of Education. (I did my TFA Institute experience in that district this summer.) All of this is in addition to Mississippi education system's nationwide rankings as one of the poorest-performing and poorest-funded states in the country.
It's really easy to get lost in that data. It's also really dangerous, because it completely ignores so much. It ignores the beautiful sunrises I get to see every morning. It ignores the remarkable friendliness of vritually every person you meet. It ignores the fact that the area I'm teaching in truly feels like a family - I've only been a teaching staff member for a week but I've been blown away with everyone's support.
But mostly it ignores the potential in these students. Even when they are acting up, these students want to learn. They want to have remarkable educational opportunities. They want to push their teachers to discuss challenging issues in new ways. They don't take their education for granted, at least not in the same way a privileged person like me was able to when I was growing up.
Every teacher wants to give their students the world. I'm really excited for this year. I'm honestly more excited now than I have been at any other point in the TFA application/Institute process. And I want to give my students the world.
But I need help.
I am seeking funds for two reasons at the moment, as I get started on my teaching adventure.
#1) My classroom library
I was extremely fortunate to inherit a remarkable classroom library for my students to use. Things like libraries and bookstores are in rather short supply in the Delta, so my ability to get books into the hands of my students is essential to their success.
That said, I want to build it even further. While I want to supplement the library as a whole, I especially want to build my YA fiction selections and my nonfiction selections. I also have a lot of athletes in my classes, and not a whole lot of sports-affiliated books. A lot of funds I hope to receive will go straight to the acquisition of these books.
#2) My classroom
My hope is to make my classroom as comfortable and conducive a learning environment as possible. Students at Shaw High are on block schedules of 95 or so minutes per class. The prospect of sitting in our hard, standard classroom desks sounds dreadful to me, and I know it's not the best way for students to learn. My goal is to outfit my classroom with a variety of learning spaces where students can read and explore both independently and in groups. I have lots of kinesthetic learners in my classes... I need to harness that if I want to see growth.
I am seeking the acquisition of a handful of CD players for students to listen to books on CD. I have all levels of reading in my classes, and I want my students to experience books on a wide level of media.
I am also seeking general school supplies - pens, pencils, paper, the essentials.
Any donation, great or small, is extremely appreciated.
On behalf of myself and my students, thank you in advance for your partnership on this educational journey!
(note: donors will be graced with thank you notes from both myself and students. Quite likely many of them.)