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How I Strive to Light the Fire and Fan the Flames of Education for My Students

    The beginning of my teaching career was a bit unorthodox.  I graduated from Mississippi College in December, and I started my first job at Clinton High School in the middle of the school year the following January.  I was a new teacher, assigned to a class schedule of a veteran teacher who had left for another job.  These classes were composed of mostly juniors and seniors, so I was only 4 or 5 years older than my students.  It was challenging to say the least, but I was very eager and excited as most new teachers are with their first job.  That first semester was as much a learning experience for me as for the students.  The most valuable lesson I learned began when I noticed that my students almost never asked any questions.  This puzzled and concerned me, so I pulled one of the students aside and asked why none of her classmates asked any questions.  She told me the teacher whose place I took discouraged questions and sometimes even made fun of students who asked questions she thought were dumb or unnecessary. 

    I resolved from that day forward, to do everything I could to make my classroom a place where students feel comfortable asking and answering questions. 

    As the semester progressed and I began to interact more and more with my students, I found they were more engaged and their performance improved.  I also found my job satisfaction and enjoyment increased.  There is a well-known quote attributed to the poet, William B. Yeats that says, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  This early observation validated the truth of this quote and taught me that my job is much more than just presenting the subject matter.  In these few paragraphs I would like to share how I strive to light the fire and fan the flames of education for my students.

    I require my students to frequently work together in groups.  I have found this arrangement provides opportunities for students to learn from each other and to work together to achieve a common goal.  Student groups are also required to work out problems on the board in front of the whole class to discuss right and wrong answers.  This also prompts discussion and questions.  Jack L., a recent 2019 graduate, said this in a teacher gram: “When I first got into your class, I thought I wasn’t good at math.  In your class I went from not knowing what was going on my sophomore year to teaching my classmates in my group my junior year.  It may seem crazy to judge yourself on a grade in school, but I have gained lots of self-confidence in your class.” 

    Over the years, there have been good times and bad.  I have laughed, scolded, encouraged, and even cried with over 3,000 students.  These students have come from all different backgrounds. I do my best each day to challenge each and every one of them.  I always hope for the best for each of my students as they enter my classroom each August.  One of the greatest pleasures is seeing the growth in confidence, math knowledge and problem-solving skills they develop over a school year.  It is not enough just to teach the students math skills.  I need to help them develop into mature, problem solving, critical thinkers.

    teacher sitting at kitchen table

    I thought I had seen just about everything that could happen in a math classroom at Clinton High School until March 16, 2020.  How things changed on that date.  We met as a faculty for the last time that day to prepare a couple of weeks of lessons because we were told we might be out a couple of more weeks.  Looking at our situation now, schools are closed for the rest of the school year, and my new virtual classroom is my kitchen table.  I record two lessons each week on my iPad with the Doceri app so that my students can hear my voice and see the notes and problems we are talking about.  I then post these videos on CANVAS for the kids to watch.  We have weekly zoom sessions with each class period to talk about the lessons and work through some problems that they have questions about.  It is good to see their faces and talk with them about how things are going while they socially distance.  I do miss my students a great deal.  I miss the noise and craziness of normal high school days.  Usually by the 4th nine weeks everybody is ready for school to be out, students as well as teachers.  I do think the kids really miss coming to school.  I know I have really missed them.  This was not the ending of the school year that we all thought it would be.  I have been very proud of my students for working so hard during this difficult time. 

    Mina Darnell

    Mathematics Teacher
    National Honor Society Sponsor
    Clinton High School