MTC '18 Spotlight: Alexis Smith
NAME: ALEXIS SMITH
COLLEGE: UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI
PLACEMENT: MERIDIAN HIGH SCHOOL
1. What made you want to join the Mississippi Teacher Corps?
As an undergraduate student, I spent a lot of time in various classrooms. I tutored reading at a tiny school in North Mississippi. I helped in the English as a Second Language classroom at Oxford High School. I developed and taught a media literacy and journalism course as an AmeriCorps member in Austin, Texas. I came into college to study the sociology of Latin America and Spanish. I didn't have any interest in becoming an educator. As my tenure went on, and my education was enriched by my time spent tutoring and volunteering, I began to notice that instead of thinking about foreign policy, I was taking the sociological and second-language acquisition theories I was being taught and applying them to the different situations of students across Mississippi. By senior year of college, I knew that I wanted to be involved in education in some capacity, but I was unsure what. Mississippi Teacher Corps just made sense. I had two years to teach and to figure out what I wanted my role in education to be. Before the program, I had an inkling of suspicion that I would really enjoy being a teacher, but now, I'm sure of it. I feel lucky and grateful to love my job and to know that I want to continue my role as a teacher long after my tenure with Teacher Corps is done.
2. Describe your classroom’s culture.
I think the best way to describe my classroom is that my classroom is not my classroom at all; rather, my classroom is our classroom. Room 213 is a space that is continuously evolving with the input and help of my students. My classroom culture is driven by the physical space my students and I have created. My desks are arranged to face one-another, our cabinet walls are covered with student shout-outs, pictures of us, quotes, student drawings, and all of the random things that students are proud of. At the front of the room, my student's 9-weeks goals are posted, written alongside at least one thing each likes about themselves. "My skin is beautiful." "I am self-loving and the best me that ever can be. I am worth everything." I believe that when we see these things, whether it's a classmates face or a written reminder of how we are strong and brave, we are more inspired to allow empathy and kindness to drive us. Out of this vulnerability and care, my classroom operates. We are not perfect: I have yelled at classes. Truthfully, I've even raised my voice at individual students. My students know I am not perfect because I demonstrate my imperfections every day. My students also know, however, that I have never not said "I'm sorry." When I am wrong or when I give out a deserved consequence in an undeserved way, I admit to it and ask for forgiveness. My students are expected to do this, too. When someone says something negative about another person, I expect them to then say something positive about the classmate. I expect apologies. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect us to always try again.
3. Why do you think learning a foreign language is important?
Learning a foreign language is one of the hardest, most fulfilling pursuits. It requires us to be patient with ourselves and others, to be okay with making mistakes, and to learn with perseverance. One of the most frustrating things in the world is having something you want to say and not knowing how to say it, but I believe that empathy grows from that feeling. I hope that my students walk out of my classroom having felt those feelings of helplessness. I hope that because of feeling such a way, they are more inclined to try to see the world from a myriad of perspectives and to use their own gifts to help others who might be feeling that helplessness in their own lives. Learning a foreign language is a wonderful way for us to understand our own place in the world, while also becoming open the value of diversity. It is also the best avenue, in my opinion, for students to learn the importance of face-to-face communication and friendship. One of my favorite curriculum developers, Jim Wooldridge, recently said this about the role of foreign language teachers, "I used to think our job was getting our students to open themselves to the world. And it still is, of course. More and more, though, I think it's equally about getting students to look up from their phones and look at the students right next to them." And I do hope that, through my teaching, my students find themselves looking into the eyes of others, who do and don't look like them, more than they ever have before.
4. What goals do you have for yourself and/or your students this semester?
My goal for myself is that I really cultivate patience with my students. I also want to push myself to get into the brains of my students more than I did this last semester when planning my lessons. My students and I are about to begin reading a Spanish novel together. I have loved seeing my students feel really proud of themselves after engaging with and understanding texts written in an entirely different language. My goal for them is that they feel accomplished and empowered, as they allow their Spanish class reality to sink it—they will have read an entire book in another language!