Mississippi (20)

Goodbye Mississippi

It is crazy to believe how fast the past 2 months went by. When I was down in Mississippi I was able to attend two classes at Ole Miss. The coolest experience I had at the University was in the assessment class. We were able to participate in a thing called teach lab where we did a virtual parent/teacher interview. This is where you are looking at a TV screen and you are talking to an avatar parent. There is someone in another room that is speaking for the avatar and can see you through a web cam and give different responses based on your reactions. Afterwards we would get feedback from the professor on what we could improve. It was definitely a unique and helpful experience.

Two weeks ago I was able to go up to Nashville for a weekend and I was able to take a tour of the Jack Daniels distillery. They gave us a tour of the grounds and told us about the history and how they make their whiskey. We were also able to check out Broadway in downtown Nashville, which was filled with country bars where they have up and coming musicians playing for free who were really good.

Throughout my time I was able to see three college football games, which were all a blast even though Ole Miss is having a disappointing season. On my last day in Oxford I was able to check out an Oxford Chargers High School football game. The teachers at the school were nice enough to give me a sideline pass and it blew my mind how good their team was. It was way better than any Canadian high school football that I have watched or played in.  

Overall it was an amazing experience and I look forward to hearing about future TABers going down to Mississippi.

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Classes at Ole Miss

Throughout this experience I have had the opportunity to sit pin on two classes at the University of Mississippi. One is an assessment class and the other is a methods of physical education in elementary. The assessment class is similar to the one that we took last semester, but has been very helpful, because we have been going over various assessment techniques. The one thing I have noticed about the assessment class was that the United States focus on a lot on standardized testing. Some of the classes we looked at how to observe and analyze data ranging from elementary to high school.

The methods of physical education in elementary is a really cool class. This is a third tier class that elementary education students at the university are required to take. It is part of a four class stream that puts an emphasis on wellness and activity that is integrated into K-6 teaching and learning. I have had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of discussions and was even able to present some things that are happening in Canada in regards to integrating physical activity into the classroom.

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1 month in

 It has been a month since I have arrived in Mississippi. It seems like just yesterday I hopped on my flight down here. Since my last post I was able to attend my first college football game here. Unfortunately Ole Miss lost on a controversial call at the end of the game, however it was still an exciting game to watch. The environment at the football game was better than any regular season CFL game that I have been to, so I could not imagine what a college playoff/bowl game would be like.

At the high school I had the opportunity to teach the students what were some of the differences in physical education in Canada. It was interesting to see their reactions, when I told them about travelling classes for PE 20 and 30. They were a little mad that they do not get the opportunity that Canadian PE students get. Sure it seems like the students love playing basketball majority of the time, but I am starting to get a feeling that the students in PE at the high school would like a little change to the class.

As this experience continues I am starting to meet more and more new people and when they find out that I am Canadian they light up. Not too many people down here know much about Canada, so I love that I can be the one to inform them on our culture and how great our country is.

I am missing my friends and family back home, but I am happy I did miss that snowstorm this past weekend. I am still enjoying +30 weather down here.

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Welcome to Mississippi ya'll

It has been two weeks since I have arrived in Oxford Mississippi and so far I am loving my experience. I have been placed at Oxford High School with their physical education department and I am also sitting in on two classes at the University. One class is called “Method for integrated wellness and physical activity in the elementary classroom” and the other is “classroom assessment”. Both at the university and the high school everyone has provided me with amazing southern hospitality.

Over the past two weeks I have already noticed some difference down here. Both at the high school and University. At the high school, the PE classes are split up into girl’s fitness and boys PE. The boy’s class is mostly focused on sports, while the girls classes is mostly fitness and wellness based. This is required in all high schools throughout Mississippi. Like Canada, it is mandatory to take on physical education class then it can be offered as an option class afterwards. Athletics play a major role down here, especially at the high school and university. At the high school, all athletic teams practice full year round. Playing on an athletic team counts as a credited option class, so teams will practice during the day and after school. The teams also brings in a lot of locals to their athletic events and usually fill up their venues.

Out of all sports football is by far the most popular, both at high school and university. Ole Miss has one of the largest football programs in the country mainly because of the support of their fans. They take tailgating to an extreme level. There is a place on campus next to the football field called the grove. This is a fairly large are covered with oak trees and on game day it can attract up to 100 000 people. Going to the grove was a experience like no other and I look forward to returning for next week’s game.

Overall I would say the first two weeks have been a success by learning a lot and experiencing the culture. I look forward to what the remainder of this trip has in store for me.

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Preparations and aspirations

Tomorrow I am leaving for Mississippi to start my TAB adventure and I am mostly excited and a little nervous. Getting prepared for this trip has not been too stressful up until these past few days when I started to pack. It has been relatively easy to find my accommodations and my liaison has been very helpful setting me up with a placement and any extra things I needed. I really look forward to experiencing the culture and southern hospitality of the state of Mississippi and also any other elements that the state has to offer. I was lucky enough to get placed in a Physical Education department at a high school, which is my current specialization. I am curious to observe how different the curriculum is in Mississippi and how the classroom environments are, such as the interactions among the teachers and students. I do not know really what to expect, but that makes everything more exciting for this experience. The last thing I am excited for is going to football games down there. I do know that college football is massive all over the United States and I am looking forward to experiencing it for myself.

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It's All About the People

Our last night in Mississippi, there was a tornado. I had heard earlier in the day that there was a weather warning, but I didn’t pay it much heed. I think as a Calgarian, I have been desensitized to weather warnings. Around 9pm, the alarms went off. Steph and I had two friends, Jonathan and Jake over to hang out while we packed and cleaned the house in preparation to leave the next day. Sitting in the living room, the air was filled with the dissonant tones of an unearthly wailing siren from outside. An emergency text message popped up on our phones “TORNADO WARNING: SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY”. I’m so grateful that Jonathan was from Alabama, and had dealt with many tornado warnings in the past, because the rest of us were in a bit of a flap! The four of us packed into my closet, which was the closest, and on the ground floor. Down South, no buildings are built with basements because the ground is so wet, so the ground floor was the best we could do. It was pretty surreal to be hiding in a closet from a weather event that I had thus far only experienced through the Wizard of Oz. Someone had the presence of mind to grab drinks and snacks on the way out of the kitchen, and we spent the next hour sitting on the floor in my stuffy, dust-bunny filled closet. We were able to watch a real time map of the tornado's progress, and fortunately, it passed by Oxford without incident. Being mindful of maintaining the battery levels on our phones in case of emergency, we had nothing to do but...talk. It's funny to think that being trapped in a closet together, hiding from a tornado can bring you closer together as friends, but it did. We talked about silly stuff and serious stuff; the past, and the future. After an hour or so, the warning passed, we got out of the closet, watched some tv, and then parted ways.

Reflecting on that evening, I realized that I couldn't have been stuck in a closet with better people. If I could take anything away from this experience, and extend it to my entire time in Mississippi, I would say that it's all about the people. I got to do so many cool things while I was here: tailgate and cheer on the home football team, audit classes at Ole Miss, work with incredible mentors and students, visit New Orleans and Memphis, go on a swamp tour, eat amazing Southern food, and enjoy the (mostly) beautiful weather. All of these amazing experiences; however, would not have been nearly as good were it not for the people that I had the privilege of sharing them with. Strolling down Bourbon Street in New Orleans, eating homemade cornbread, cheering with 50,000 other fans, or hiding from a tornado in a closet; none of these would have been so memorable had I not shared them with friends. I am so grateful for the friends I made on this trip; for the extraordinary experiences that I had, and for the memories that will truly last a lifetime. Miss you already, Mississippi. 

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Major Points of Learning

As my time at my practicum school comes to an end this week, I have been reflecting on the most important aspects of my learning. I have been extremely fortunate in my placement; I have designed and taught a full unit to several 8th grade Mississippi Studies classes. The experience has greatly impacted me as a teacher and given me lots of opportunities to grow. In particular, I wanted to reflect on two major points of my learning:

1.The value of enrichment.

The cohort of students I teach are all enrolled in the AVID program, and are considered to be highly motivated, and high achieving, students. As a result, there are very few students with learning disabilities, behavioural IPPs, or ELLS. When planning instructional differentiation, I typically focus on students who struggle and need extra help. However, I quickly learned that advanced students require a  special focus in differentiated instruction as well. Throughout my placement, I have learned that with in one class you will have many levels of students and you need to be ultra-prepared for students at both end of the spectrum. Although these are concepts that we have discussed in classes before, the real-life experience made it clear to me how important differentiation is, and how it is not just important for students who struggle. 

2.Diversity needs to be celebrated, not just tolerated.

As we discussed in Diversity in Learning and Indigenous Education, we do see race and it does have social meaning and consequences (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014). In education and social justice, it is important to recognize this so that we do not “trivialize the realities of racism” (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014, p.14). 

One of the reasons I applied to teach in Mississippi was to observe how the legacy of institutionalize racism has impacted schools. Mississippi has an extremely divisive history, for example:

  • MS succeeded from the United States to join the Confederacy in 1861, with the aim to maintain slavery as the principle institution in society.
  • After the civil war, MS was the first state to create the Black Codes in the 1860s - laws which acted to confer the civil rights of African Americans. 
  • In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. However, it was not until 1962 that the first African American student, James Meredith, attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). In response, segregationists led a massive riot which ultimately required the federal military to intervene.
  • In 2012, the University banded the sports chant “the South will rise again”, which led to a protest, led by the KKK, on University property. 

This complex history still impacts Mississippians today. Especially in the classroom, it is important to recognize how the legacy of institutionalized racism affects students. However, I have noticed a trend in society, as well as in schools, towards “colour-blindness”. This is a dangerous ideology - it may promote a tolerance towards diversity, but I believe that in order for our students to reach their full potential, diversity needs to be recognized and celebrated. I saw this in my placement - when student’s unique experiences and perspectives were embraced, they were better set up to succeed. I had the opportunity to teach a lesson on the confederate states in Oxford*, and each student wrote a letter to the Mayor explain their position and whether the statues should remain where they were, be moved, or be removed. It was an interesting experience in creating an inclusive learning space for all my learners and making sure that the conversation was meaningful and respectful. My learning in Mississippi has impacted my perspective as a Canadian - particularly in terms of Reconciliation, as we have a long journey ahead of us to ensure that our diverse students are celebrated and given every opportunity to succeed. 

Overall, teaching in Mississippi has been an eye-opening and endlessly rewarding experience. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had and all of the wonderful people I have met along the way.

Hotty toddy!



*these monuments have been discussed in detail in previous blog posts.

Literature Cited:

DiAngelo, R. & Sensoy, O. (2014). Leaning in: A student’s guide to engaging constructively with social justice content. Retrieved from: http://www.radicalpedagogy.org/radicalpedagogy.or g/Leaning_In__A_Students_Guide_To_Engaging_Con structively_With_Social_Justice_Content.html

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  In the last week of my time in TAB, we celebrated Halloween. Kids and teachers alike dressed up for the occasion. One child even dressed as their Assistant Principle (which was hysterically funny). 

  Two other costumes were particularly important to me:

1. Black Panther, Killmonger, and Shuri (Princess of Wakanda)

  Earlier this year, the movie "Black Panther" came out. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a superhero known best for its: predominantly black cast; portrayal of an African country as economically flourishing; and thoroughly researched and beautifully implemented Afro-Futurist artistry and design. The Black Panther as a character is the first title role for a black superhero, and it is a leader in representation for people who encounter the story.

  Mississippi has the highest number of African-American citizens of any state in America. At least half of each of my classes was represented by African-American children. 

  Walking through the halls on Halloween I saw a 9-year-old Princess Shuri whose spine was so straight, and chin so proud, and smile so bright, that I could have sworn she was true Wakandan Royalty. I can guarantee you she felt like she was visiting from Shuri's lab of incredible inventions to grace the lowly people of 4th grade. 

  The boys dressed as Killmonger or Black Panther were the same - proud and bold and excited by their costume. 

  Not only did their costumes represent their favourite characters, but their favourite characters represented them. When they look at the female Generals in Wakanda, girls can actually see their faces reflected, and that is a powerful thing.

  Movies are teachers. If kids only see superheros as white people, will they believe that superheros are only white? The growth of representation in Hollywood has been noticed by 9 year olds in Mississippi. And that is incredible to me. 

2. A Native American

  On the opposite side of the spectrum, the idea that a culture is not a costume has not reached the Walmart Halloween section. Kids still dress as "Native Americans," feather headdresses, beaded necklaces, fringed skirts, and all. Cultural Appropriation is still pervasive and a necessary conversation that should be had with our kids. 

Teaching Across Borders, at Halloween

  We took Indigenous Education as part of our online courses this semester, and Diversity at the U of C last year. We have learned the importance of acknowledgement, validation, and representation in classrooms. We know we should have storybooks which show a number of different cultures, places, people, and ways of having families. We know that there is real damage done when people are misrepresented or invalidated. 

  Halloween is a reminder of the greatness of representation, and the work that still needs to be done. 

  By seeing black people as superheroes from a wealthy African nation: kids see possibilities of being super, being Generals, being inventors, being rich and travelling in futuristic vehicles - and that these things are not limited to white faces. 

  By seeing Indigenous people only represented by images from hundreds of years ago: kids lack positive encounters with present-day Indigenous people. In this way, present-day Indigenous people's voices are not being heard, and in the minds of other children their culture remains "a thing of the past." 

Why this is important to me

  We came on TAB to experience something new. To experience something different, or uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. We are a group of people who decided to move beyond the campus-experience at the U of C and make ourselves available to learning we could only reach by leaving. We came to find new answers to the problems at home, to be inspired by different ways of learning or teaching, and to be open to paths unwanderable in Canada. 

  The TAB experience is not about travelling to Oxford or New Orleans or Memphis. It is about seeing how cultural collisions have influenced the way New Orleans is today, how Southern life has influenced Jazz and Blues, and how gentrification affects the neighbourhoods of kids that come to our classrooms. 

  When someone learns about a new culture, they gain new representations. New knowledge has bred in me new understanding.

  Representation and experience has resulted in my falling deeply in love with Mississippi, and it has resulted in the sparkling eyes of a 9 year old Shuri who made a student teacher tear-up in the halls. 

  Go into the world and teach with breadth, my friends! The children of the world need your superpowers.

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It’s Just Like the Movies - part 2

My first post on these blogs was about a few different things that are “just like the movies,” and I mentioned that I would have a second installment for your entertainment. My friends, it is here.

At the end of my post I mentioned: school lunches, school security, and bedazzled pepper spray.

But here we have arrived at a plot twist.

I began writing about the three things aforementioned and I reached an impasse. I couldn't quite articulate why they were like the movies. I lost my past grasp on what made me think they were strange. The more I wrote and rewrote, the more I realized it was an argument with which I no longer agreed.

They really aren’t “just like the movies” at all. I arrived in Mississippi experiencing a lot of newness, strangeness, bigness, betterness, and Americanness I was generally expecting. School lunches, school security, and bedazzled pepper spray included.

  The school lunches could stand improvement, true. The school security seemed potentially overstated, maybe. The bedazzled pepper spray – well that really may be “just like the movies” – but I understand it better now.

  School lunches have improved. Michelle Obama (and others) worked for 8 years to help improve nationwide food standards in schools. The kids receive 4 food groups, and there is positive work still being done to improve healthful meals for all students. The problem, as far as I have learned, is not the ability to make good choices – but rather the funding. It is my belief, with resources and a few more votes for education, improvements can and will come.

  School security is not overstated. I don’t know how to put it more plainly than that.
  There is adequate and ample security to protect the children inside their establishments and nurture a safe space for learning. I first thought the big scary sign-in system seemed like it was a bit overkill because it scanned your ID. However, I must concede: it's just automated - not an automaton. 

  Bedazzled Pepper Spray comes with the cultural notion (whether one agrees or not) that one should be able to protect themselves. There are dangers in the world, and as a woman who occasionally resorts to a clutched key as a precautionary measure, I get it. And heck, it’s not lethal, so who am I to judge?

  In sum, exactly that: Who am I to judge?
  The movies (bar Starwars, Harry Potter, Alien, et al) reflect life, in whatever way they choose to reflect it. If the Mississippi I first encountered is “just like the movies,” it was reflective of a life different from my own.

  This film critic’s understanding has grown. It’s amazing what happens when you watch until the end of the movie!!

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Louisiana Roadtrip




Okay, so, August and Victoria will tell you: before coming down to Mississippi, I told them “I really want to go see a bayou,” and “You know those big boats with fans on the back? We should definitely ride one.” I had never realized it before TAB, but the quintessential vision of “the Deep South” was alligators and catfish on a bayou. I was positively GIDDY the day we went on a Swamp Tour. In the boat with the fan. Alligators galore.

I am totally in love with the Swamp. I even asked our guide if people have weddings there.

Hanging from the (sometimes 1000 year old) branches of the Bayou trees, there is a species of flowering plant called Spanish Moss. It hangs in long tendrils from the branches, giving the trees that very typically “swampy” look – almost like a willow tree, only more damp. It is gorgeous. It skims the water and shades the little lives hiding from the Louisiana heat.


In the 48 hours preceding my love affair with a Louisianan bayou and all the wilderness she provides, we lived a big-city lifestyle next door – in a whole other kind of wilderness.


















New Orleans:

If you drive South for six hours, through Jackson (the state capital), and 20 miles over a highway built on stilts through a swamp: you get to New Orleans. NOLA (as it is commonly referred to) offers a unique sensorial feast which blends culture, music, and food from different aspects of its long history. You can feel the richness of Cajun, Creole, Hispanic, African American, and European lineages throughout the city.

We were in the city for two nights, spending one night with our friend’s family, and one night in a cute Air B&B. Those two nights felt like a month – in the best possible way. I think we did a little bit of everything.


Our friend Hannah’s family welcomed us to homemade catfish and cornbread which was absolutely DIVINE. We later went driving down at the bayou to see if we could catch the glowing retinas of an alligator with our flashlights (sadly, to no avail, it was cold that night).

We spent the next day exploring the city, and we remained entirely food-motivated throughout the day. After blueberry pancakes at Hannah’s, we set off.

Between the three of us, we tried: seafood cheesecake, voodoo shrimp at the House of Blues, gumbo, jambalaya, jalapeno cornbread, in-house craft beer, street daiquiris, beignets at Café du Mond, vegetarian escargot, and po-boys. Take this list as a shopping list: you need it all, I assure you.

(Picture, clockwise from left: Po-boy sandwich, with yam inside, traditionally made with meat; Seafood cheesecake, a soft cheesey seafoody goodness that you spread onto the bread; Beignets, a pastry sort of like a donut but with more bubbles in the dough, and no centre hole, absolutely smothered in icing sugar; craft beer sampler, made in house.)


Initially we wanted to go to the WW2 museum – as (with most things in America) it boasted being the best, or biggest, or in someway most excellent. It looked incredible, and I would suggest you go to it if you have an entire day to spend learning – and 35 American dollars to spend on entrance.

We instead crossed the street to the “Confederate Memorial” building, which masqueraded slyly as a museum, but was indeed a memorial of limited useful knowledge. It was not mis-advertised, but it was mis-packaged. Hundreds of info panels later, and we had read the word “slavery” exactly one time. An interesting study in bias though – if you are interested.

Walking through the city, one thing that really stood out (no pun intended) was above-ground burials in their graveyards. New Orleans rests below sea-level. That is why there are so many swamps and marshes around, and why the city is surrounded by Levees (which you might remember, famously broke during Hurricane Katrina). The earth, therefore, is relatively saturated, and rather than burying their deceased 6ft under, they build a stone box above the earth as a final resting place.

We walked into town to the French Quarter, and we were then among everything we had heard rumoured throughout or lives about NOLA: the House of Voodoo, artist markets, incredible Jazz buskers, the neon lights of Bourbon Street, ships arriving and disembarking up and down the Mississippi River.

You could probably spend a week, a month, a lifetime, and never see it all. But if you get the chance, absolutely visit New Orleans. You'll have stories to tell when you come home. 


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Visit to the National Civil Rights Museum

We are fortunate to live only about an hour and a half away from Memphis, Tennessee, where there are many interesting things to do and see, as well as a lot of history. We visited the National Civil Rights museum, which was a thought provoking, sobering, and frankly, mentally exhausting experience. Near the historic restaurant and music district of Beale street, the museum is built on the actual site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. King was killed on the balcony of the Lorraine motel, the facade of which remains exactly as it was on that fateful day, April 4, 1968, seamlessly incorporated into the modern design of the museum. The plaza in front of the museum is fairly busy, but almost eerily quiet, as people stand contemplating the untimely death of a man who dedicated himself fully until the literal moment of his death to the betterment of life for his fellow citizens.

The museum details black history in America, from the horrors of the slave trade, to colonialism and cotton, the civil war, and the civil rights movement. I learned many new things, including that many African people were originally captured and sold in Africa to European slave traders by other Africans- chiefs and leaders who used the slave trade as a way to retaliate against other tribes and nations with whom they had conflict. My impression previously was that the timeline of events in the history of slavery went from awful to better. I was wrong. After the abolition of slavery, there was a period of time- a limbo if you will- when it looked like life was going to get better for those who had been enslaved. White people retaliated quickly and viciously; however, laying down a series of “separate but equal” laws that hobbled Black Americans in their pursuit of equality and equity. The Civil Rights movement was born in response to these injustices and fought to regain humanity and dignity for people of colour.

Surrounded at the museum by people of colour, I was very conscious of my whiteness. I found myself staring at black man who was standing beside a sculpture of black slaves crammed into the dark belly of a ship. I saw the exhibit. I read all of the texts in the room, and I understood what happened. I didn’t; however, see my likeness reflected back at me in suffering, as that man surely did. I realized then that although it was important for me to be there and to learn, my experience that day would be completely different from his. Becoming aware in that moment of my whiteness was, I think, and important experience. By the simple virtue of being white, I have privilege. That privilege allows me to walk through life without thinking about the colour of my skin, and the message it sends without me even having to open my mouth. Especially in Calgary, I don’t think I have ever been the only white person in the room. Experiencing this awareness gave me empathy for people of colour who must experience this every day of their lives. I think it’s important for teachers to keep this in mind, and to be aware of the power dynamic that exists between us (if we are white) and a student or parent who is a person of colour, whether we want it to or not. I heard somewhere that to combat privilege and to progress towards equity, I have to recognize that just because something isn’t a problem for me personally, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a problem. I did nothing to earn my privilege, but I have it. Fortunately, I can use that privilege for good. I can choose to be an ally, and use my privilege and my voice to lift up the voices of those who are oppressed and ignored, and I encourage you to do the same.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s death was the result of hate, racism, and bigotry. I think that we would be mistaken to believe that those things have fallen to our collective past. The once vibrant colours of the memorial wreath at the site of his death have now faded, but let us not allow his memory and the memory of those over the course of history who have fought for equality and justice to fade. Instead, let us be reminded of what has been done, and what has yet to be done. Let us honour the memory and sacrifices of MLK Jr., and continue his legacy- in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions.

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Sun's out, Guns out

One of the things that I was most apprehensive about when I came to Mississippi was guns. Firearms. As a Canadian, the only guns I am familiar with (and I say familiar, not comfortable) are the ones that law enforcement have, and the hunting guns that my uncle keeps locked in his basement. I have personally never fired a gun. I had no idea what to expect, as I’ve been to the US many times, but never this far south, and never to an open carry state. I’m going to tell you some background information, some of the misconceptions that I had about guns and gun owners, and the reality of living in an open carry state.

The oft-discussed Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is the right to bear arms. Gun laws vary from state to state, and Mississippi is an open carry state. That means that pretty much anyone can buy a firearm and openly carry it with them. Applicants for a concealed or open carry permit must undergo a background check. It is especially important for concealed carriers to have proper documentation. As I understand it, the reasoning behind this is that if you were to come into contact with a police officer and you had a gun on your belt, they would be able to see that you had a gun right away, and that you weren't trying to hide it or get it past them. I suppose a concealed carry permit is a way of attempting to distinguish responsible gun owners from those who are hiding a gun for unsavoury purposes. Another interesting fact that I found out is that in Mississippi, your vehicle is considered an extension of your home, meaning that it is perfectly legal to carry a gun in your vehicle. A fellow university student described to me how he keeps a handgun in his vehicle, but is sure to keep both hands on the steering wheel if he gets pulled over. When the officer comes to his window, he immediately informs them that he has a gun, and of its location in the vehicle.

I asked around about how easy it would be to buy a gun. I have no intention of buying one, but I was curious. In line with laws surrounding alcohol, you have to be 21 years of age to legally purchase a gun and register it in your name. Guns are available for purchase at sporting good stores, similar to how they are in Alberta at Bass Pro. There is also a gun department at Walmart, which was a bit of a shock for me the first time I saw it, casually nestled in-between the DVDs and the pillows. I think the biggest difference in terms of availability is that as far as I know, as a regular citizen in Alberta, you can only really purchase a rifle for hunting, whereas here in Mississippi you can buy a handgun as well as shotguns from anywhere, including Walmart. To purchase a gun, all you have to do is show state issued ID such as a driver’s license. A background check is run against that identification. There are apparently certain guns such as an automatic rifle, or a sawed off shotgun that you can’t buy and take with you the same day. Those guns have a 24 hour or so waiting period, which I would assume is due to the increased amount of damage they could do in the wrong hands. There are also gun shows, where background checks have been known to be more lax, and transactions are often made in cash, and are therefore untraceable. As well, a private sale of a firearm does not require that the buyer provide a clean background check.

Coming to Mississippi, I had several misconceptions about guns.

Misconception: Open carry is going to be more scary and dangerous than concealed carry.

Reality: You have less to worry about with open carry than concealed carry. It seems counterintuitive. My friend Jonathan is 24 years old, studies law at Ole Miss, grew up in Alabama (Mississippi’s neighbour to the east), grew up around guns, and is a registered gun owner. He pointed out that if you see a person’s gun, they aren’t trying to hide anything. If a person is openly carrying a firearm, you can bet that they obtained it legally, took the proper steps to register it, and know how to use it safely. With concealed carry (the gun is in a purse, pocket, etc) comes a potential increase in the chance that someone is carrying an illegal firearm, may not know how to properly use it, or has something to hide (although this is certainly not always the case, and many concealed carry owners are very responsible). While I am certainly not going to feel comfortable walking into a Walmart and seeing a pistol on a fellow shopper’s hip in the deli section, after talking to Jonathan, I definitely feel better about seeing a gun.

Misconception: I will see guns everywhere.

Reality: I have seen two guns in the month that I have been in Oxford. One was a police officer’s, and the other was Jonathan’s that I asked to see (it was unloaded). I have seen zero guns in the deli section at Walmart.

Misconception: It is bad to raise children with a familiarity with guns.

Reality: A teaching colleague I spoke to said that he and his wife would likely introduce their son to guns around age 7 or 8. Many people will take their children out to go hunting and allow them to shoot guns. It’s something that I initially shied away from, but now I understand it. Guns are such a commonplace part of life here that parents would much rather their children understand gun safety and proper handling, and that they learn early to respect the danger that a gun can pose if improperly handled. We all teach kids not to talk to strangers and not to eat unwrapped Halloween candy…why wouldn’t we teach them how to be safe with something that they encounter on a daily basis?

To conclude, there is a lot of distorted information about guns and gun ownership. I thought I was walking into a version of the Wild West, but this has absolutely not been the case. I know that living in Canadian society where guns are not commonplace and widely socially accepted has influenced how I view gun ownership, and this has been a big learning curve for me. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the reality of living in an open carry state, and to have been able to talk openly with gun owners that I like and respect about their experiences. I don’t think that I will ever own my own gun, but I am starting to understand the culture around guns that exists here.

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Tupelo Career Fair

Hello !

Today, we took all of the grade 8s to Tupelo (an hour east of Oxford) for a career fair. It was quite the site to see 7 yellow school buses making their way down the highway! 

At the career fair, there was an extensive range of interactive centers for the students to engage with. The centers included occupations from health, visual arts, engineering, the trades, and much more. There were also many centers that were related to the military. Professionals from each industry provided activities for students to gain a glimpse into each profession. As well, each center had a chart that outlined what level of education is needed and the corresponding salaries. 

Throughout the middle school, there is a strong focus on preparing for college and future career opportunities. Each classroom’s door is decorated to showcase a different university. In the commons, there are dozens of university pamphlets spread out on the tables. Students have the opportunity to enroll in AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination), which helps them develop skills to be successful in college and the work force. I have been surprised by the level of emphasis that is placed on preparation for the future, especially for such a young group of students. I think there is many benefits; it makes students aware of their options, helps motivate them, and gives them the opportunity to develop important life skills. However, I think it places a lot of stress on students. I also think it is damaging to advertise higher education as the only door to success, and that in order to be successful, youn  I do think that the career fair was a good way to mitigate this stress. Students were in fun activities that inspired them and helped increases their excitement for the future. 

Hotty Toddy! 



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The Mississippi State Flag

A current controversial issue in Mississippi is the state flag. Throughout my time here, I have engaged in many conversations with friends, visited several monuments, and participated in university discussions regarding the topic.

The controversy stems from the inclusion of the flag of the 14th Louisiana Infantry from the Confederate army in the civil war (the red square with the blue cross and stars). The flag served to represent the goals of the Confederate Rebels, which were primarily to maintain the institution of slavery in the Deep South. However, the flag of the 14th Louisiana Infantry, and the Mississippi state flag, has also been taken up by the Ku-Klux Klan. For these reasons, many people believe that Mississippi should change the state flag. However, many people also argue that the state flag represents southern heritage and includes a crucial part of Mississippi’s history. Some argue that the Southern States were fighting to preserve state rights, and that Confederate soldiers that lost their lives need to be memorialized. We visited a Confederate memorial in New Orleans, and a huge emphasis was placed on the significance of the different flags that represented the Confederacy in the Civil War.

The University of Mississippi has addressed this issue in several ways. The University does not fly the state flag on campus. There is also a statue of a Confederate soldier on campus to memorializes students of Ole Miss that fought and died in the War. However, the plaque was recently changed to better contextualize the statue. The new plaque no longer associates the Confederate’s battle with a ‘right and just cause’ but recognizes the significance of the event to the school community.

The recontextualization of the plaque shows the importance of social consciousness. I personally see the value of this as a teacher, as the flag of the 14th Infantry, and thus the state flag of Mississippi, have become associated with hate that impacts my students. Similarly to the movement of Reconciliation in Canada, and the recent renaming of the Reconciliation Bridge in Calgary, it is crucial to come to terms with difficult events in the past that have left enduring legacies in our countries.  


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The Deep South

  Please bear with me as I stretch a metaphor to its breaking point.

  As you may or may not be aware, a human eyeball has 3 types of photoreceptor cells designed to help you see all of the many wondrous colours we have come to adore. And that’s lovely, thank you, photoreceptors for your hard work. However, the eyes of a Mantis Shrimp have 16 different types of photoreceptor cells, allowing them to perceive the multitudes of colour that our inferior human ocular systems couldn’t begin to imagine.

  Now, pretend if you will, that human scientists harnessed the power of a Mantis Shrimp’s eye, manufactured and affixed this power to sunglasses, and then sat those glasses across the bridge of your nose. Voila mi amigos, Hyperbolic Vision.

  Coming to America is a bit like wearing Shrimp Sunglasses.

  No, not like “I can finally see in colour” – nothing so dramatic. More like “Toto, we aren’t in Canada anymore.” Everything here is intensified. The heat is hotter. The trees are taller. The cars are louder. The people are friendlier. Generosity is more generous. Patriotism is more patriotic. Football is Footballier. Tailgating, tailgatier. Walmart is more Walmarty. Sorority house? Sorority Mansion! Everything really is “bigger and better” in the South.

   It is easy to love it all. It is easy to feel almost overwhelmed by how exciting everything is. And it’s easy to be so distracted by your eyes that you almost don’t hear: “so many people are closet racist,” “you still occasionally get someone burning a cross on a front lawn… but it’s highly frowned upon,” “I won’t call people sir or ma’am – my grandma says we stopped needing to in 1863”

  The South, in our experience, has been nothing but welcoming and warm. As we meet more people and make more friends, we are becoming aware that this is not the experience on all days or for all people. There is still a legacy of racism stemming from pre-emancipatory and civil-war days. Ole Miss does a lot of work in making their campus a safe and welcoming place for all people – they have revisited the statues of confederate soldiers and added addendums which acknowledge confederate ideologies; on campus, they have taken down the Mississippi State flag which includes the confederate flag in its top left corner; the faculty actively encourages and engages a diverse campus, and do positive work to welcome more African American learners every year.





  Forward motion, and the slow process of reconciliation, is felt throughout the community here in Oxford, and it doesn’t take Shrimp Sunglasses to see that.



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My day at school

Schools are structured a lot differently in Mississippi (or at least in Oxford). Elementary schools generally house two grades, with multiple classes of each grade. For example, there will be a grade 5-6 school, with about 6 classes of each grade. I was talking to a teacher who is also a parent of a grade 1 student, and she said that she appreciates the separation of grades, as it prevents younger kids from being exposed to more mature topics and language by older kids before they should be. Another benefit of this system is that since there is only one school to send your child for their grade, segregation according to race, socioeconomic status, or what neighbourhood you live in is much less likely. Schools are structured this way up until high school, which is grades 9-12.

My day starts at the high school (grades 9-12) around 8am. We have one period of marching band rehearsal outside (weather permitting), and then a prep, during which I travel with one of the teachers to the middle school (grade 7 and 8). After grade 7 and 8 band classes, we stop at a gas station to pick up lunch, and eat it at the intermediate school (grade 5 and 6). We teach two classes of grade 6 beginner band and then dismiss the students to go home. Although there are five or six grade six classes, only the equivalent of two classes are allowed to take band as an option, and admittance to band is based on an “audition” at the beginning of the year to test basic aptitude. Tuesdays and Thursdays the high school band has marching band rehearsal outside from 4:30-7pm. Yesterday we during rehearsal it was 35 degrees Celsius, plus 80-90% humidity...embrace the sweat!

I’m in the slightly unusual situation of working with a team of music teachers. Between the four of them, they share the teaching load for grades 6-12 band, plus instruction of the colourguard (the flags and dancers in the marching band). Each of them has a subspecialty (brass, woodwind, percussion, and colourguard), although they all work together and can teach any of the areas. It’s been really valuable for me to be able to work with teachers with totally different teaching styles and philosophies, and then also see how they bring those differences together to present a cohesive curriculum.

My gas station lunch (gas stations in Oxford actually have cooks and serve hot food!)









Sunset over the field at the end of marching band rehearsal


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Southern Hospitality

As I have been in Oxford for over a week now, one thing has particularly stood out to me - the overwhelming kindness of people and their eagerness to help out. I think Americans are typically stereotyped as being rude and self centred. And although I have heard of southern hospitality and the general friendliness of southerners, I definitely did not expect it to this extent. For example, upon our arrival home from our first trip to Walmart, our Uber driver quickly hopped out of the car and helped us unpack our extensive pile of groceries and supplies, which I have never experienced before and was not expecting. Since we do not have a car, several people we have met (including our RA at the apartments and a grad student associated with Ole Miss), have offered to pick us up any time we need even though it would be going above and beyond expectations. The other day, I took the bus home after getting my groceries. It was raining a little but I only had a 5 minute walk home. However, on the way a lady pulled over to ask if I needed a ride home or to the university. It was just another example of how people are so willing to help out everyone they meet! When we met with the Dean of Education and the support staff, we were met with such excitement. I have never received so much free swag! We were also graciously offered football tickets in the nicest part of the stadium. Additionally, the University staff were willing to reach out to anyone they knew to help ensure our experience is the best it can be. It was encouraging to hear the professors speak of the networks of people they knew - between a few of them it sounded like they had contact with the whole town! 

In the schools, I have continued to experience the exceptional warmth and kindness of others. Each morning, the social studies teachers meet in professional learning commons (PLCs) to review their plans and reassess how their classes are doing. It was wonderful to be welcomed into such a supportive community within the school. 

As Stephanie mentioned in her last post, Southern Hospitality is truly something you need to experience to reach a full understanding. I am unsure if it’s because Oxford is a small town, or that the community is so connected by the University of Mississippi, but I have never experienced such a strong sense of community that eagerly welcomes others in. I feel incredibly safe and welcomed, which surprises me since I have only been here for several days. I look forward to becoming a closer part of this community and to build on the warm sense of welcoming that I have already received.

Hotty Toddy,

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Friday Night Lights

Coming to y'all live from Oxford, Mississippi, I am here to inform you that everything in the movies is true. 

Whatever I could possibly mean by this is difficult to describe with brevity, but I'll give you three points to begin: 

1. Southern Hospitality 

  I arrived in Memphis Tennessee last Sunday. With Victoria and August and the generous offer of a ride from our Ole Miss liaison, Hannah, we arrived to our townhouse in Oxford safe and sound. Ole Miss, pictured here with flowers, is the colloquial name for the University of Mississippi. After the initial shock of heat and humidity on our poor cold Canadian bodies, we set off (slowly, with many waterbottles) to explore campus, meet our partner teachers, meet seemingly everyone in town, make new friends, and accept invitations to every event nameable. Truly every person has been nothing but generous and kind to us since we arrived.

  For example: The Dean of Education here gave us his tickets to his family's capital-F-Fancy football seats for yesterday's home game; given us every piece of "faculty of education" swag he could grab; introduced us to his whole family at a high school football game; and personally driven us home in his minivan. While this may seem odd - if not over-the-top - by Canadian standards of what it means to be welcoming; here in Mississippi it has been our everyday experience from whoever we chance upon. 

I think I can speak honestly for all of us in saying that we love it here.

2. Student Life

   As a University student: it is just like the movies. No, really.

  There's the usual stuff you'd expect: fancy libraries, stately buildings, neatly manicured lawns, various sport-team references all over campus, professors neatly dressed in suits, and students wearing Ole Miss gear (possibly all that anyone owns in Oxford? Yet to be determined). 

  And then there's the "movie" stuff: an entire street within the gates of the university (WITHIN THE GATES OF THE UNIVERSITY) called "Fraternity Row" and a second called "Sorority Row". Lined, up and down, with "greek houses". I've put two pictures of Fraternity houses so that you can see what precisely that means. These houses have cooking and cleaning staff, gardeners, pools, and outdoor concerts (yes, with stages, bands, spotlights) every week. 

3. Football

  As a sub-category of Student Life, but also as a very real piece of Southern American life, Football is a huge part of culture. Maybe the hugest part. I have yet to walk into a store that doesn't sell some kind of merchandise of the "Ole Miss Rebels". 

  Every Friday there are High School football games that roughly 1000-1300 people attend. In the full silver-seated-stadium seating you expect of Friday Night Lights, the Dean of Education (who we bumped into there) told us "you're lucky to have found somewhere to sit!" 

  Then on Saturdays, it is College Football day. People fly and drive from all over the South to attend football games. They "tailgate" in a park on campus called "The Grove". In one of my pictures you can see a sea of people - those tents are the tents that people "tailgate" in. I keep putting that word in quotiations becasue it is so different that the "tailgate of your Ford F150" type celebration we have with the CFL. The tents have flatscreen TVs, chandeliers, mountains of food and drink, and everything - even the people - are decked out in Ole Miss Rebels colours / logos / slogans. There were around 500 tents, probably more, and literally thousands of people out to celebrate Football for the majority of the day.

I could go on

  As the heavy-hitters of American Culture, I will leave this post with only these three topics. However, I am looking very forward to updating you all on more cool things in further posts. Believe me, there is more!

Stay tuned for: school lunches, school security, and bedazzled pepper spray!! 

Hope y'all are having a wonderful time in all of the other corners of our world. We are truly and deeply enjoying ours.






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My Mississippi experience began the minute I boarded the plane from Houston to Memphis. I came through the cabin door, and looked up, realizing that nearly everyone on the plane was decked out from head to toe in Ole Miss gear. I immediately felt very out of place in my floral sweatpants! What I found out later was that there had been an away game in Houston; Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss. People down here are so crazy about football that it is not uncommon for them to travel several hours by plane or car to attend away games to support their team. Apparently there were about 4000 Ole Miss fans at the game in Houston. At this point I was beginning to suspect that football was an even bigger deal down here than I had expected.

I was fortunate to sit beside a very nice man named Hal on the plane. Hal is an Ole Miss alumni, and an avid football fan. He doesn’t even live in Oxford anymore, but he still has season tickets to Ole Miss football. We talked for the entire two hour flight, and I experienced Southern hospitality for the first time. After having known me for only an hour, Hal had invited me to join him and his family and friends at their tailgate tent before the upcoming home game, and he even offered the use of his season tickets to Ole Miss games whenever him and his family weren’t going to use them. Hal also told me about a current controversy concerning the Landshark, which is Ole Miss’ new mascot.

Traditionally, the Ole Miss Rebel’s mascot was Colonel Reb. The Colonel bears a striking resemblance to a Confederate Army soldier, which given the history of the Civil War in the South, is a pretty easy connection to make. Being a university town, Oxford is generally more liberal than other places in Mississippi, which I did not expect. In 2003, the university decided to rescind Colonel Reb as the official Ole Miss mascot. My understanding is that this decision reflected a growing desire to have the school mascot represent all students, and more importantly, for the mascot (and by extension the University) not to perpetuate the systemic racism that is so embedded in the South. I can only imagine how it might feel to be an African American student, attending a school where the mascot is a direct reminder of the Confederate Army, and all of the people who fought to maintain the institution of slavery.

In 2010, the mascot was changed via a student vote to be Rebel the Black Bear. The Black Bear never really caught on though, prompting another student vote in 2017 where voters chose between the Black Bear and the Landshark. The Landshark originated with an Ole Miss student named Tony Fein who played for the defensive line on the football team. Tony had served in Iraq as a member of the US army prior to attending Ole Miss. Following a successful play on the field, Tony would throw up his hand on top of his head in a “shark fin”. This was a symbol that he had brought back from his time in the army, where his patrol had nicknamed themselves the Landsharks. This “Fins Up” symbol was adopted by Ole Miss fans, and is widely used today, making Tony the Landshark a logical choice for a mascot.

The controversy lies in the fact that not everyone agrees with the change from Colonel Reb to Tony the Landshark. I listened to Hal and some other men behind us on the plane discussing the new mascot; saying how much they didn’t like it, and how it was not representative of Ole Miss fans. I chalked this up to a difference in age and culture. After all, Colonel Reb had been the mascot when Hal attended Ole Miss many years ago, and no doubt held personal significance for him. One woman we met at the university said that she fully supported the move to the Landshark, and the accompanying move towards inclusion. Imagine my surprise when I talked to another girl in her early twenties, who, when I brought up the land shark debate, declared that “Colonel Reb will always be my mascot”. It is interesting to note that Colonel Reb had been removed as the official mascot about fifteen years before this student had even come to Ole Miss. I had assumed that people my age here would be more informed, and more likely to support the change in mascots. I wonder if this girl simply didn’t know or understand the historical ramifications of Colonel Reb, or if she understood and didn’t care to think about the ramifications of that support. I still see Colonel Reb around campus on the odd banner or tshirt, but it’s clear that he is not a part of official branding any more. I am very curious to continue to meet new people here, and try to get a wider and more accurate idea of how many people still see Colonel Reb as their true mascot, and why.



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Arrival In Mississippi

Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty!! I have now been in Oxford for 4 days and it has already been a whirlwind of wonderful experiences. 

As I begin this journey, I would like to reflect on my expectations and aspirations. I expect the culture of “the Deep South” to be substantially different from Calgary. Firstly, I have never lived in a smaller town before. Oxfords population is approximately 20,000. I expect there to be both positive and negative aspects. Hopefully it will provide convenience and enhance the sense of community. Additionally, Oxford is a university town. I hope to experience the excitement of school pride and attend as many school events as possible. In contrast, I have only attended several school events at the U of C and would say my enthusiasm was lacking. Secondly, I am curious to see how the current political climate will impact my experience. I consider Calgary to be a diverse and accepting place. Since Mississippi is a traditionally “red state”, I predict it will be less embracing of diversity and much more conservative. 

I hope that the political climate will push me to consider different perspectives. Particularly, I think that the divisive past of Mississippi will make me consider different ways on how to engage all types of students in the classroom. Controversial issues are often the hardest to bring into the classroom, but I think they are also some of the most important topics to discuss. I believe that I will meet people from many different walks of life and this will help prepare me to engage diverse classrooms in Calgary. I hope that these different conditions will help push me out of my comfort zone and broaden my learning experience.

Particularly pertaining to schools, I am interested to see how the Common Core has been embraced or adapted and wether this differs much between states. I also expect there to be a strong emphasis on standardized assessment. As well, Oxford has an interesting socio-economic dynamic. The University attracts many people into Oxford and makes it a more diverse place than most of Mississippi. However, since it is a smaller town, there is only one public school for all grade 8s and 9s. Therefore, different socioeconomic groups are not seperated into different schools as they may be in Calgary (due to living in different communities). I am curious to see how this plays out in the schools and if it brings any specific challenges. 

Overall I am very excited to see all of what Mississippi has to offer. As they say in Oxford, Hotty toddy!


On the University of Mississippi Campus. 

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