MTC '18 Spotlight: Cole Ulbricht

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NAME: COLE ULBRICHT

COLLEGE: MISSOURI STATE UNIVERSITY

PLACEMENT: SIMMONS HIGH SCHOOL (HOLLANDALE, MS)

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

I had received my bachelors degree in secondary education and my initial certification back in 2012. After graduation, I joined the Peace Corps and after that moved to an island in South Korea to teach English. After all that time, without having practiced education in the United States, my certification had expired. Getting re-certified is an expensive process that basically involved going back to college. I was initially drawn to the Mississippi Teacher Corps because they offered a free alternative certification program. After more research into the program, I realized that it was far superior to any other program available, even the ones with a costly price tag. The staff and professors are extremely knowledgable and passionate about their work and it shows and rubs off on us. I saw MTC as the best way to advance my career as an educator for little to now financial investment on my part. Now that I’m in the program working towards my goals, I don’t think about the great financial benefit but rather the positive relationships I’m building with my cohort and professors. 

2. You did the Peace Corps before joining. Where did you serve, and what kinds of things did you do? 

I served in the Peace Corps in a place called Fqih Ben Salah, Morocco. Not many people know this, but Morocco is the United States’ first and longest ally. When America declared independence, Morocco was the first to recognize its sovereignty. This had to do with the politics of the time, mainly Morocco also wanting independence from France. Because of this strong relationship, America has a strong Peace Corps presence in Morocco. Peace Corps only sends “youth development” volunteers there and strangely enough, “youth” in Morocco is defined as anyone under the age of 35 that is unmarried. I was tasked with basically assisting youth broadly. How I did this was by teaching English at the local youth center while pursuing ways to become more involved in the community. I helped a small mountain school get access to toilets and running water where there was none before. I planned leadership workshops for the local orphanage. I planned and participated in many English camps across the country. I also helped organize a women’s and girl’s empowerment program that encouraged them to pursue leadership roles within their community, big or small.

3. What are your current students like?

My current students are very interesting and unlike many of the other places you could teach in Mississippi. I believe I had heard that my district is the smallest district that MTC sends its applicants. I live in a very small community where throughout grades k-12 there are only 750 students in the entire district. This creates a very tight knit relationship among the students. Most of them have been in classes together at this small building every year for the past 12 years. It’s been tough walking into this community as a stranger not entirely knowing the culture or understanding the struggles they go through. I could describe my first semester as a bit of a hazing period. Currently in my second semester I have found that students have a completely different attitude towards me. What was maliciously combative has turned to playfully combative or even just genuine nicety. While I lived in Korea, respect towards those even a day older than you was the strict culture followed by everyone. Here respect is earned and outsiders are generally mistrusted and treated as such. As I’ve found ways to gain their trust, I’ve found ways to gain their respect. It’s been an adjustment but I’ve grown a lot and there is nowhere else I’d rather be. 

4. What advice would you give to a future first-year MTC teacher?

My advice to future first-year MTC teachers would be to hang in there and get through the tough times. You’ll hear a million times that things are better in your second year. After a particularly rough first semester, I’m already beginning to see the second year bump in my second semester. I can already tell I’m going to have really positive relationships to build on for the following year. Put in the work and show that you’re a person worth trusting and you’ll earn respect. It all comes with time and what seems impossible in your first week seems easier and easier as time goes on. 

Hunter Taylor