Half-Court Classrooms: Mississippi Teacher Corps Fosters Innovation in Classroom Management

First-year MTC teacher Grant Wycliff was eager to adopt trashketball as a classroom management tool during his summer teacher training at Holly Springs High School.

OXFORD – Two weeks into his teacher training, Grant Wycliff balled up a few sheets of butcher paper, wrapped the bundle in masking tape and headed to Holly Springs High School to lead a class of ninth-grade summer school students in review for their next English exam.

His game plan? A longtime Mississippi Teacher Corps teaching method affectionately called “trashketball.”

While trashketball isn’t a traditional classroom management tool, it’s considered a classic technique among Teacher Corps alumni, handed down through the ranks from generation to generation. MTC alumni who come back to Holly Springs each summer as TEAM teachers to train new recruits encourage its use.

“I’m not exactly sure of the game’s origins,” said Ryan Bolland, a MTC alumnus who graduated from the program in 2008 and served as principal of the program’s summer training school this year. “Teachers who were ahead of me in the program used it. It’s a great review game that allows students to engage the material and get their energy out.”
TEAM teachers and alumni such as Bolland help prepare new recruits to lead a classroom in just over two months each summer during a hands-on training summer school housed at Holly Springs High School. During this time, the recruits receive their job placements at schools across north and central Mississippi and gain experience teaching in an environment similar to the critical needs areas where they are placed.

“We use trashketball during our review periods,” explained Wycliff, a first-year MTC teacher employed at Coldwater Attendance Center in Tate County. “The review is just answering test questions, but the idea is to give the students incentive to get the answers right and collaborate. It keeps things fresh.”

While shooting trashcan baskets is a common classroom occurrence that many educators view as disruptive, the Teacher Corps approach is to use it as an incentive for learning and a management tool. Essentially, trashketball is an organized free throw competition involving a trashcan and a makeshift ball. Most MTC teachers create their own trashketballs or have their students individually bunch up used notebook paper.

Video by Mary Stanton

The rules are simple. Classes are divided into teams and upon successfully answering a question, a team member shoots from a one-, two-, three- or four-point line to earn extra credit for their team on an upcoming exam or earn a prize. The game can be quite popular among the more competitive students.

“As a classroom manager, it can actually hurt you if you use it too much,” said Wycliff, an Evanston, Ill., native and University of Norte Dame graduate. “But in the long run, when you give students the option to have fun every now and then, rather than letting every lesson be worksheets, it will help in management. They see an opportunity to have fun learning.”

A nontraditional program with nontraditional methods, the MTC exclusively recruits and trains graduates from leading colleges and universities with degrees in fields outside education. Besides hands-on summer training, the two-year program requires teachers complete coursework at the UM School of Education and eventually leads to a master’s degree in education. It also qualifies teachers to apply for an AA Mississippi teacher’s license.

“In a way, our teachers receive two forms of education,” said Aaron Johnson, acting MTC program manager. “At Ole Miss, they study the theory, but in the summer school and in their field placements, there’s a mentor system. The experienced teachers mentor the new teachers and so on. When you’re entering a critical-needs classroom so quickly, you have to learn from the people who know how to reach the students. Trashketball is just one example of finding a way to meet the challenge.”

For more information, visit the Mississippi Teacher Corps.