Each week in the series Diary of a First-Year Teacher, an anonymous first-grade teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.
I've been living in the Mississippi Delta since last fall and still have a lot to learn about rural America and Mississippi.
First of all, I am pretty far away from the things I had considered normal growing up near a major city. To put my remoteness in perspective, the closest Starbucks, Target, airport and movie theaters are a minimum of 90 minutes away.
A University of Washington doctoral candidate did a study on the proximity of Americans to Starbucks stores. He found that 80 percent of Americans live within 20 miles of a Starbucks. I am not one of those Americans.
To go to a mall or car dealership takes at least two hours. And the biggest blow for this girl is that the closest Trader Joe's is over a four-hour drive. Rural Mississippi is an entirely new world for me. In addition to being far from the conveniences of a major city, the events around me are often a culture shock.
At first, I was baffled why anyone would choose to live here—myself included.
I’m living a crash course in rural America. At first, I was baffled why anyone would choose to live here—myself included. I assumed the only reason people stayed was familiarity and a lack of upward mobility.
Early on I was very critical of my boredom in this place. I missed the conveniences of cities, and questioned a culture that lacked the liveliness I was used to. I have come to realize that living in rural Mississippi can certainly be out of convenience. One of the challenges my students and their families face is that “getting out” is not easily done without the financial means. However, that’s not the only reason people stay.
People stay here because of the rich and deep culture. The Delta may not sparkle the way it used to when it was financially optimistic, but the culture still radiates through the cotton fields, juke joints, and rivers.
The Delta’s song is certainly singing the blues. And how it could not? The Delta’s history is both tragic and beautiful. It has raised incredible authors, musicians, and civil rights leaders. Yet it’s lands have also been battlegrounds for the Civil War, the civil rights movement, and recently the burial ground for a horrific act of homophobia.
There are challenges here. Major challenges. However, I believe in the future of the Delta.
I believe if the youth can celebrate their heritage, resolve the racial divide, and move forward, that the Delta’s song can resonate again with hope and a future. It’s not us visitors who will change it. We know this well.
My work is but a band-aid filling a need, in hope that it will fill a void long enough to allow a few more children to receive the education they need to take the reigns of their region.
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