MTC '18 Spotlight: Levi Mitze-Circiumaru





1. What made you want to join the Mississippi Teacher Corps?

After I finished my undergraduate degree, I spent a year in Bucharest, Romania with my wife (who's Romanian). I played violin in a number of orchestras there, and while I enjoyed my first experiences playing with professional orchestras, I found the life of a rank and file violinist to be kind of isolating. There was no real human interaction involved. You go to rehearsal, you play, you go home. You practice. You rehearse. You perform. Repeat. I missed having actual, meaningful interactions with other people. In addition, I've always been a math nerd, and I missed being in school, utilizing my cognitive abilities to solve problems. I've always driven my family and friends crazy explaining this or that proof or mathematical paradox to them that caught my interest. I realized there was a particular career path that put a premium on incessantly wanting to explain mathematical concepts to people who aren't actually all that interested in understanding them. A friend of mine had told me about MTC, and after a little research, I decided that MTC was probably my best chance to jump-start a career in education without incurring a mountain of debt. So I applied. And here I am now, in Meridian, MS.

2. You and your wife are trained musicians. Have you found spaces to continue to play music?

My wife, an organist, has been lucky enough to be able to play at a local church in Meridian since we got here. We're especially grateful for that since she put working on her doctoral degree in organ on hold so that I could do MTC. I certainly don't play the violin much anymore, but I get to perform occasionally at church. And we recently took a weekend trip to Macon, GA (where we went to college together) to play a concert. There is a symphony orchestra here in Meridian, but I'm a little too overwhelmed with work and school to play with them right now.

3. What have your students taught you?

My experience teaching in a high-needs school has taught me first and foremast that some social problems have deep, hard to excavate roots. A simplistic view might hold that chronically poor educational outcomes manifest because poor school districts just can't afford to hire skilled, qualified teachers. Though there is probably some truth to this view, my experience thus far in Meridian has brought me in contact with plenty of dedicated, experienced, highly skilled educators who still manage to have students who score depressingly low on standardized tests, have serious attendance issues, and continually struggle to follow basic school rules. My students have dauntingly complex, sometimes traumatic lives outside of school. And these experiences are always present with them in the classroom. My first reaction to the chaos of a high-needs classroom was sheer terror at (what I thought were) the depths to which human deviancy could sink. My students seemed inconceivably lazy, self-centered, careless, irrational, hypocritical, rude, crude, and defiant. But over time, in developing a rapport with them in the classroom, I've come to see that my students are none of these things, or at least are not more prone to any of these character defects than are most teenagers. I know that my students care deeply for their futures and educational success. But, often, the hardships of poverty, broken homes, and serious deficiencies in basic academic skills inherited from previous grades make capitalizing on their present opportunities to ensure a brighter future for themselves through educational attainment a seemingly impossible goal. My students aren't lazy, they're tired and overwhelmed. My students aren't selfish, they're self-preserving. They, like most people, are doing their best. I just hope I can help them develop "their best" into something more than what they've come to expect from themselves and the world around them up to this point.

4. Describe your teaching style to someone who has never seen you teach.

My teaching style is (pardon the cliche) nothing to write home about. I'm enthusiastic about the content I teach because I love the content I teach. And I believe in motivating students through a combination of consistent grading and high-energy student-teacher interactions in the classroom. I like to focus on the basics because I think success in algebra depends greatly on building a deep foundation of understanding in the basic structures of math--equations, graphs, the basic operations, and the like. I try to treat my students with as much courtesy and respect as possible, but am not against showing my own frustration when things aren't going as they should in the classroom. It matters to me if my students succeed or fail, and I think my students can sense that as much through the energy and enthusiasm I try to engender in them with my lessons as through the frustration and disappointment I show when that energy and enthusiasm fall dead-born from my wildly gesticulating arms!

Hunter Taylor