Monday, August 4, 2014

The First Day: The Teachers' Perspective on Back to School


In this blog post we talk with a first-year and a veteran teacher about what a first day back to school is like. We get their perspective on nerves, excitement and new beginnings heading into a new year of school. 

Montana Murff, Joyner Elementary School, First Year Teacher, 2nd grade


Q: What made you choose education?
A: When I was growing up I always loved school. One day in 3rd grade I did a project and my teacher told me that I would make a great teacher. I guess it just got in my head but ever since then I just wanted to be a teacher.

Q: Do you already have any first day jitters?
A: Yes! First year teacher on a first day is very intimidating. I did student teaching from January to May 2014 so I didn’t get to experience the first day. All of the procedures were taught when I came in so it was a little bit easier then.

Q: What are your hopes for the first year?
A: I just hope I’m able to manage the classroom and make the children show growth in academics, as well as socially and emotionally. I’d really like to make an impact on each of my children that will benefit them.

Q: Have you been nervous all summer about the upcoming school year?
A: I’ve had all summer to prepare, so I think the nervousness happened at the beginning. Once I got my classroom, got things prepared and hung up those feelings went away.

Q: How much of a learning process do you expect this year to be?
A: Everything is new this year so it’s going to be a learning process for every teacher and not just me. They’ve changed not the curriculum, but with the Common Core standards there’s a different type of teaching implemented. Also, they’ve changed from week to week teaching to unit teaching, so it’ll be new for everyone. I don’t feel so much like the Lone Ranger, which is good because everyone will have to work together.

Q: Do you have a first day memory as a student that stands out to you?
A: I remember my first day of kindergarten, because I was so incredibly nervous. I’m the oldest of five children so I was the first one to experience going to school. I remember getting there and the teacher putting me with someone that she thought I would be attached to. It ended up being my best friend for all of that year and we stayed best friends all the way through elementary and high school.

Q: Last question, packed lunch or cafeteria food?
A: Both! I like to change it up! I don’t want to get tired of one of thing.


Laura Russesll, Joyner Elementary School, 20 years teaching, 1st grade



Q: Why do you keep coming back to teaching?
A: I love it. That’s how I’ll know I need to retire when I don’t love coming back every year. You can’t do this if you don’t love it. It’s not always the perfect job but I just love it. I love working with the kids.

Q: What made you choose to do education?
A: I had always babysat and been around kids, but it was actually my aunt who influenced me to pursue it. She was a preschool teacher in Austin, Texas, and she won teacher of the year once. I don’t know why but she just influenced me. She got her degree later after her kids were grown and that was an inspiration to me.

Q: What’s the greatest part about being a teacher?
A: Making a difference in a child’s life. Hopefully, you can also make a difference in the parent’s lives. It’s great to show the children that they can be successful and help them to believe in themselves so they don’t have to depend on someone else. That way they don’t have to look to someone else for the feeling of acceptance. If I can help a child be independent and believe in him or herself, I’ve made a difference.

Q: How was your first day of teaching?
A: I was a nervous wreck! I learned real quickly that whatever you learn in college does not prepare you for that first day. It is a trial and error thing and you either have it or you don’t. It’s not something that you can work into and you maybe get better at. I was so afraid that I was going to do something wrong and that was going to have eternal consequences for a child. I was scared to death that I was going to mess up a child.

Q: How did it end up going?
A: It ended up going great. I was able to stay home with my two girls so there was a long gap where I didn’t teach, but when I went back full-time I still had the same feeling. I have that feeling every year because it’s an awesome responsibility that is charged to you and it’s frightening to think what you hold in your hands. It’s a little like that every year but it’s gotten easier. I still remember my first class and how sweet they were.

Q: Do you still get those first day jitters?
A: Yes. Every year I do. I don’t hide under the covers but absolutely do get the jitters. But I think that might be another clue that I might need to call it a day if I don’t get at least a little bit anxious or jittery.

Q: Tell me about a first day that stands out as a teacher or student.
A: I can tell one of each. We’ll do student first. I had a brother that was a year ahead of me in school and he was the perfect child. He was smart and every teacher loved him. I was not quite as smart and I liked to talk a lot. I remember my first day of fifth grade and my teacher said “So, you’re Tom Wilke’s sister?” I said yes and it went downhill from there! (laughter) I was not quite what she expected and she let me know that.

Then my first day of teaching in Tupelo, this is going on my seventh year here, the teacher had to leave because her husband was transferred for work in November. However, it was her first year and she had not had a lot of classroom management so when I walked in there was nothing in the room and the children had had nine weeks of doing whatever they wanted to do. I’m a structured teacher and I love to have fun but there’s a time and a place for that so I told them that. So, we had to start over completely.

Q: Are you still learning to be an educator?
A: Absolutely. Three years ago I got my National Board Certification because I didn’t want to ever be one of those teachers who said I’ve done this for 30 years and I don’t need to change. I don’t want to do that. I’m always looking for ways to add new and different things. If I ever say I don’t need change then that’s time for me to go. You can’t do the same thing you did 35 years ago because kids are different today.





Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tupelo Still Inspiring Artists Today



It isn’t breaking news that Elvis Presley changed the landscape of music history. Artists have been influenced by Elvis’ voice, charisma, and style for the better part of five decades. It’s well noted that much of Elvis’ musical influence has been credited to his upbringings in Tupelo, Mississippi. The rich artistic community he was surrounded by may not have been nationally acclaimed but it shaped the material he built his legacy upon.

Greg Dillard performing live.
That spirit hasn’t left Tupelo as artists are still finding inspiration here.  Greg Dillard, a Tupelo High School teacher, was born and raised in the Tupelo area and is making a name for himself playing his music here. When Dillard began creating music he had a Caribbean style, but decided to make it a little more “radio-friendly.” He began creating trop-rock, a style that he said he is often compared to Jimmy Buffett meets Jack Johnson. The Trop-Rock Music Association has even nominated the title track of his latest album, “Trapped In Paradise Again,” for Trop-Rock Song of the Year.

Trop-rock grooves may seem out of place in Tupelo, a town several hours from a beach, but to Dillard it is a very diverse genre that explores everything from R&B, rock, soul, and country. The teacher/rocker said he believes the northeast region of Mississippi, specifically Tupelo, is so uncommonly blessed when it comes to music and creativity that to be surrounded by talented musicians and artists who are pursuing their dreams is an inspiration to be creative in and of itself.

Brandon Bennett, an Elvis Tribute Artist and rising country musician, can attest to the inspiration from collaboration of artists in Tupelo. Bennett, a lifelong country fan, was performing his Elvis tribute act at the BancorpSouth Arena when he met Paul Overstreet, a country singer-songwriter. Desiring to take his career to the next level and record his own album, Bennett piqued Overstreet’s expertise on the country music business. The two began working together on an Elvis project, but Overstreet saw the potential in Bennett and since then, the two have been preparing songs to record for Bennett’s first country album.

Brandon Bennett performing his country
act at the 2014 Tupelo Elvis Festival.
Although not a native of Mississippi, Bennett, a Louisiana boy, has developed a fondness of Tupelo and said if given the opportunity he’d own a house in the town in a heartbeat. “I just wish I could find the word to describe how I feel about Mississippi – it just feels like home,” he said with a smile. “There’s something about when you’re at home that just allows you to relax and be yourself. That enables you to just allow whatever it is that allows that creativity to come out easily.”

As Bennett has been preparing his debut album, he said he’s been channeling that love for the Magnolia State as a source for his inspiration. “You drive along some of these areas and the pine trees and the rolling hills and being just a beautiful state for nature – all of that connects what I feel like is my country roots,” Bennett said.

To Greg Dillard, it’s those very same roots and emotions that cause people from the South to have a unique experience that they can’t get anywhere else. “I think that in the South we have a very unique and simple way of life,” he said. “Of course, not everyone lives it, but if they’re from the South they can relate to the experiences of it. Not everyone can say they went mud-riding in pickups, but they can appreciate it because it is a Southern thing.”

The South may often be nationally perceived as a genre defining country or blues but towns like Tupelo are looking to break the mold and inspire artists on a genre-spanning platform. When asked what Tupelo’s sound is, Dillard said the greatest metaphor for Tupelo’s music scene is Elvis himself, because he was such a melting pot of genres.  “You have the blues and R&B influence, you definitely have your country influences and there are some rock/Americana styles now,” Dillard said. “All of those are highly represented in Tupelo, and I don’t see there being any one genre because it’s all widely represented.”

Tupelo has positioned itself as a town with a history to find inspiration for searching artists, but it also opens its doors to those just coming for an experience. “When you come here, you experience the true generosity of everyone and the downhome feel of the history of Elvis and the blues,” Bennett said. “I just can’t explain what it is but it’s just a feeling you have when you’re in Tupelo that makes it a really special place.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Top 10 Free Things to do in Tupelo This Summer


     

1.) Walk in the footsteps of the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll at the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Eleven of the fourteen exhibits on the grounds are free of charge.


2.) Participate in the largest 4th of July celebration in Northeast Mississippi at the All-America City Family Picnic in Fairpark. Enjoy entertainment, activities for the kids, and a performance by the Northeast Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, all culminating in a huge fireworks display. 


3.) Beat the heat this summer with a trip to one of Tupelo’s parks. Get soaked at the Veterans Park Splash Pad. Dance in the fountain at Fairpark.
4.) Stand in the spot where musical history was made at Tupelo Hardware. Listen to the tale of how Elvis Presley’s mother, Gladys, bought his first guitar instead of the rifle that he really wanted. Strum on one of the guitars that are still sold at the store today.


5.) Travel the road forged 8,000 years ago by natives to this area on one of the many trails along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Headquartered in Tupelo, take a trip to the visitor’s center at milepost 266 where you can view a film, experience interactive exhibits, and see what life was like for the first travelers on this infamous road.



6.) Boogie through the King of Rock & Roll Guitar tour in Downtown Tupelo, featuring over 30 hand-painted steel guitars crafted by students in the Tupelo Public School District.


7.) Get Down on Main for the free summer concert series in Fairpark July 10 featuring Hot Buttered Rum and Howlin Brothers, August 14 with Bobby Rush and Homemade Jamz, and September 11 including the North Mississippi All Stars and Water Liars.


8.) Walk through history at the Mississippi’s Final Stands Interpretive Center and Brice’s Crossroads National Battlefield. Learn about Northeast Mississippi’s important role in General William T. Sherman’s “March to Atlanta” and walk the 1,600 acre hallowed ground where General Nathan Bedford Forest’s small mounted cavalry secured a decisive victory over the much larger Union army.


9.) Pack a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon at Ballard Park. Enjoy the skate park, disc golf course, two playgrounds, sand volleyball courts, and picnic pavilion. Just don’t forget to pack a snack for the ducks that inhabit the park’s three-acre lake.


10.) Take a stroll down the Music Bend Nature Trail. This 2.5 mile path runs parallel to Mud Creek in east Tupelo, where Elvis Presley was known to skinny dip with his buddies back in the day. Take a break and cool down at the overlook and read the marker on the Elvis Presley Driving Tour to learn more about his antics growing up in Tupelo.