Some quotes from Day 1:
- “I bet you’re the yoga teacher.” – Mr. H to Chinmay
- “Debate matters because it changes how people see issues. The first major issue in our country was slavery, and it took over a hundred years of debates for people to change their minds. That’s why debate matters.” – Ms. M on the virtue of debate
- “On the white side of town, they set their dogs on you.” – Mr. W warning other students not to wander off during recess
I’ve always been an optimist about the middle school years. Although I faced my own share of miserable experiences during those years, I now view them with the rosy glasses of hindsight. Now they seem more a crucible than a yoke. They’re formative years, make-or-break years, years we should value for giving us our mettle. Most importantly, they’re malleable years.
When I looked into my students’ eyes today, I didn’t see despair or cynicism or hopelessness. I only saw potential. At this age, there’s an incredible malleability, the capacity, as one middle school English teacher wrote in my yearbook, “to admit your faults, discover your passions, and begin anew.” Many Sunflower students, I have no doubt, have endured dark nights of the soul. If they have, they sure didn’t show it today.
I’m enclosing here the letter I wrote to my students:
June 1, 2015
Dear Freedom Fellows,
Welcome to rhetoric class! My name is Mr. King and I’m excited to be the lead teacher for 8th grade, the co-teacher for 9th grade, and the teacher assistant for 7th grade. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. Now, I attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. This past year, I took classes in Spanish, political science, environmental science, philosophy, and education.
I love my family dearly. My parents are older and I am their only child together. They always read to me when I was little, supported my hobbies of photography and gardening (my dad and I once built a greenhouse together), nurtured my passions in history and politics, and have stayed invested in my success as I have grown older. When I was 13, they divorced. It was hard for me at first, but now I see the wisdom in their decision. I think them happier apart. As for the future, I have a few ambitions. One of them is to be a loving husband and father. Another dream is to pursue a career solving problems and serving others – as a teacher, diplomat, business leader, or social entrepreneur – and maybe even run for public office one day. The same desire to serve others brought me to the Sunflower County Freedom Project. I have passion for rhetoric and experience in speech and debate, and there’s no subject I think could be more important for you to learn this summer. Rhetoric changed my life and it will change yours too.
Rhetoric class is not about making you all sound the same – it’s about equipping you with a toolbox of skills so that when you speak up, others will listen to what you have to say. Speech and debate will challenge you, but they will also make you grow. I hope you learn as much from me as I learn from you. Again, I’m so happy to be in Sunflower County working with you this summer. I promise to give it my all this summer and I expect you to do the same.
One last thought: teaching is like any other performing art. It takes thoughtful planning, dedicated practice, and irrepressible passion to dazzle your audience.
Raw teaching talent can only take you so far. The rest is grit.