By Alyssa Schnugg
Even for a married couple, Michael and Allison James have a lot in common.
They’re both from California. They both coach volleyball and teach in the South Panola School District while they are working on their master’s degree through the Mississippi Teacher Corps program at the University of Mississippi. And, in a few more months, they will both be parents to a baby girl.
Michael and Allison started dating in high school. Allison went to Ole Miss on a softball scholarship and Michael attended the University of Memphis where he earned his bachelor’s degree. After they graduated from their prospective schools, the two returned to California and got married in 2015.
“I always knew I wanted to teach,” Allison said. “My mom is a kindergarten teacher and I had a passion to work with kids, but I didn’t know what to get into right after graduation.”
A friend of hers told her about the Mississippi Teacher Corp program at UM.
“I was willing to take the jump and move back to Oxford,” she said. “I wanted to experience teaching through this program and all it offered.”
College graduates agree to work and teach in high-poverty, high-need public schools for two years in Mississippi while MTC provides the training, support and teaching certification. It also provides a full scholarship to Ole Miss for students to earn their master’s degree. Students work as teachers Monday-Friday and drive back to Oxford each week to attend class on Saturdays.
MTC graduates also have access to scholarship funds if they ever choose to pursue their Ph.D.s.
MTC has been turning out teachers for almost 30 years.
Michael told his wife that if this was something she really wanted to do, he would do it with her. However, he didn’t have enough classes in U.S. History, the subject he wanted to teach. Therefore he wasn’t accepted into MTC at first.
While Allison went through the first year of the program in 2017-2018, Michael went back to school and reapplied in the spring. He was accepted and is now in his first year in the MTC program and Allison is tackling her second year.
The two now live in Oxford and are both teaching at South Panola High School, where Allison teaches ninth-grade English and Michael is teaching 11th-grade U.S. History.
During the first year of the program, Allison said she had many sleepless nights working on lesson plans. This helped Michael know what to expect when he joined the program this summer.
Dealing with teens can be a tough job, but Michael and Allison both said when that “light bulb” goes off and a student tells them “thank you,” it makes the job worth the work.
“If you can engage them and get them reading a book or doing an experiment, you’re teaching them so much more than just school work. You’re teaching the skills they’ll use throughout their lives.”
Michael said MTC has not only helped him gain a teaching certificate, but it allows him to give back to the state.
“MTC is something that gives back to people who need it the most,” he said. “We aren’t focused on the top 10 performing schools. We’re focused on the schools with the most needs. It’s a great program and it’s building teachers who care about the community and educating our future.”