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A Gospel-Centered Response to Urban Education in Memphis

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Justine Brunett, MTR Class of 2016 and Elementary Resident (ESL concentration), shares her end of course reflection for the Cultural Foundations course of the Masters of Urban Education. She answers the question, “What is a gospel-centered response to urban education in Memphis?”

I think I am somewhat of a stereotype: the bleeding-heart white girl who, with starry-eyed idealism, thinks she can save the world. (This is, of course, a fairly positive stereotype that is completely incomparable to the harmful stereotypes surrounding people of color, and I am not saying I can empathize with their experiences. I do think it represents how many people might perceive me, though.) Fortunately, my college education informed me that pity is not an appropriate response to people with inherent agency and dignity, injected a healthy dose of cynicism and critical thinking into my over-inflated idealism, and instilled in me the belief that “saving the world” is an incredibly complex task for which I have absolutely no qualifications. It also heightened my awareness of my privilege and encouraged me to consider the effect my privilege has in any helping relationship I might enter into with a person who has less privilege. Unfortunately, it did not erase the fact that I am still white and privileged, and, regardless of my ability to think critically about that fact, I still will be as I stand in front of a classroom of students of color who experience poverty in a few short weeks. Sometimes I wonder if I should have just stayed in the suburbs and lived out an “American Dream” lifestyle because I do not know if I can truly empower my students when I come from such a dissimilar background. Worse, I fear I might subtly reinforce the idea of white superiority just by being a white person in the more powerful “helper” position of a helping relationship. However, confronted with the injustice of educational inequality in Memphis and the truth that Jesus commands his followers to restore goodness in the world, I have ultimately chosen to pursue urban education but with a reflective awareness of the complexity of the issue and serious contemplation of how I can best stand in solidarity with my students despite my privilege.

Educational inequality has a long and complex history in Memphis. In 1972, a Federal Appeals Court ruled in Northcross vs. Memphis Board of Education that Memphis public schools needed to actually implement the Brown vs. Board injunction to desegregate a system that had for years offered a highly inferior quality of education to African American students (Branston, 2011). In response, school officials created a busing plan that would have integrated the schools had not “tens of thousands of white Memphians…fled the city for points north, south, and east” or sent their children to private schools in order to avoid the plan, leaving almost exclusively children of color living at or below the poverty line behind (Branston, 2011). Eliminating de jure segregation paradoxically resulted in the de facto segregation that exists to this day. In addition, today’s standards-oriented educational landscape measures high achievement by uniform standardized tests for all students regardless of their backgrounds, and schools that fail to live up to the standards face consequences that further burden them (Bankston and Caldas, 2009, pp. 146-151). Thus, in Memphis now, re-segregated public schools, which are attended almost exclusively by students confronting external socioeconomic circumstances that make achievement difficult, face enormous pressure to achieve at the same rates as more affluent schools. Good intentions have failed: desegregation broke down some barriers to equitable education, but ended in entrenched de facto re-segregation. Now, the good practice of holding students to high standards has been implemented in a way that fails to differentiate among the varying needs of diverse students. In the midst of such complexity and injustice, the only “right response” is “the anguished cry of lament” (Katongole and Rice, 2008, p. 77). When human attempts to fix a problem just perpetuate it, we can only turn to God and plead with him to make the situation right.

God can make broken situations right; in fact, the entire Bible tells the story of “the restoration of an original good creation” (Wolters, 2005, p. 12). God created everything good, but because of human disobedience, sin now distorts all of it. Abuse of the environment, domestic violence, exploitative labor practices, mental illnesses, civil wars, racially-motivated terrorism in peaceful churches, unequal education—these all stem from the pervasive, evil, distorting effects of sin. Although the continued presence of these injustices and suffering shows clearly that God’s kingdom of restored goodness is “not yet fully present,” the kingdom has “already” come “in Jesus’ life and ministry” (Livermore, 2009, p. 36). In other words, Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and powerful resurrection began the work of reconciling people to God and restoring the goodness of creation even though the work remains unfinished. It will be completed when Jesus returns, but in the interim, he calls his followers to join him in the work. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says that God “has committed to us the message of reconciliation,” a message that we transmit most clearly when we actively and diligently work to restore people’s relationship with him and each other. Striving to create equal education for children living in poverty is an act of reconciliation because it allows them to more fully glorify God by fulfilling their God-given potential and equips them to make relationship-restoring changes in their neighborhoods, city, and world. God amazingly invites me to join him in that act.

However, as someone with privilege, I need to be very reflective about my work as an urban educator in order for it to be truly reconciliatory. In his influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Friere (1970) argues that simple “anguish” over the realization of one’s own privilege “does not necessarily lead to solidarity with the oppressed” (p. 49). “True solidarity with the oppressed,” he asserts, “means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality that has made them these ‘beings for another’” and occurs when an oppressor “risks an act of love” (Friere, 1970, pp. 49-50). I cannot lament the disparity between my privilege and the complex, humanity-denying injustices faced by my students, and then just ignore that disparity when I teach. I cannot shed and certainly should not try to deny my privilege, but I can resolve to consistently, tangibly pursue active antiracism and social justice (Tatum, 1997, p. 94). I need to make a radical choice to be on my students’ side and empower them to challenge the systems that oppress them so that they can also more effectively be agents of restoring the goodness of creation.

How, as an ESL teacher, can I genuinely stand in solidarity with my students and empower them to make change? I can start by honestly acknowledging to my students that I do not understand their struggles but will make every effort to educate myself so that I can at least have an academic knowledge of the marginalization they face. I can also teach with excellence, knowing that—problematic though it may be—their level of English proficiency will likely correlate with their access to a dignified standard of living in the U.S. and their power to make changes in their communities and for immigrants in our country more broadly. As I teach them English, though, I can also encourage them to value their own languages and cultures by allowing them to speak their first languages in my classroom, learning at least a few words in their languages myself, finding books to read with protagonists who look like them and share their experiences, and giving them opportunities to share their cultures with the wider school community. I can also give them opportunities to name, question, and offer alternatives to the marginalization they face. I am sure that I can justify how a reading and discussing a book about a student bullied for his accent or a research project about DREAMer activism against the limited higher education opportunities for undocumented immigrants provides my students with the opportunity for authentic use of the English language.

Above and beyond teaching, I can also advocate for my students and be “like a lawyer” for them, as one of the participants at the community center where I worked last year described her ESL teacher. I can educate my general education colleagues on best practices for teaching ELLs, look for ways to bridge the gap between immigrant and domestic-born students at my school, and help my students navigate a new culture and society. I can also connect their parents to community resources for immigrants and ensure they have access to interpreters when necessary. Additionally, I can join in the already-established immigrant rights movement to advocate for more funding for programs that help immigrants, better educational systems for them, protection and dignity for undocumented immigrants, and a more accepting attitude toward immigrants generally within American society. To make my advocacy more effective and my solidarity more genuine, I can relocate to a neighborhood where my students live. The work of “reconciliation…[cannot] be done effectively long-distance” because I will never truly understand my students’ needs for restored relationships or, more importantly, the assets they already have with which to meet those needs unless I interact with them regularly (Reed, 1995, p. 36). Relocation can make my students and their families into not just people I see only within the school context, but also neighbors who I can understand on a deeper level.

One of the most influential professors I had in college frequently warned us that “our two biggest enemies are cynicism and simplicity of thought.” Her words easily apply to educational inequality in Memphis. It is easy to become “bitter and angry” looking at the injustices and the failures of good intentions and to question whether it is even worth it to try again to make a change (Katongole and Rice, 2008, p. 134). However, God clearly issues a call to his people to join him in the work of restoring goodness on the earth. In answering that call, though, I need to be very careful not to jump at simplistic solutions that fail to take into account the complexity of the issue. I can only contribute to true restoration if I humbly stand in solidarity with my students, advocating for them and equipping them with the skills they need to fulfill their potential and become advocates themselves for change in their communities. Perhaps it is idealistic, but that is my gospel-centered response to educational inequality in Memphis.

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Bankston, C. L. and Caldas, S. J. (2009). Public education—America’s civil religion: A social

history. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Branston, J. (2011). Battering ram: The tragedy of busing revisited. Memphis: The city

magazine. Retrieved from http://www.memphismagazine.com/March-2011/The-Tragedy-of-Busing-Revisited/

Friere, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed. (30th Anniversary ed.). (M. B. Ramos, Trans.).

New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Katongole, E. and Rice, C. (2008). Reconciling all things: A Christian vision for justice, peace,

and healing. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Livermore, D. A. (2009). Cultural intelligence: Improving your CQ to engage our multicultural

world. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Reed, P. (1995.) Toward a theology of Christian community development. In J. M. Perkins, Ed.,

Restoring at-risk communities: Doing it together & doing it right (pp. 27-46). Grand

Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Tatum, B.D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?: And other

conversations about race. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Wolters, A. M. (2005). Creation regained: Biblical basics for a Reformational worldview (2nd

ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.






MTR Residents are not the only ones with a stack of books to read. MTR Staff are constant readers too and have offered up their current reading. There will be a reoccurring blog post with the latest readings and takeaways, hopefully a few of them will make it on your reading list!

MTRnews_justmercyReader(s): MTR Staff Book Club
Title: Just Mercy
Author: Bryan Stevenson
Why we read this book: Bryan Stevenson has been called “America’s Mandela,” due to his work in the United States justice system and leadership of the Equal Justice Initiative. Urban education is closely tied to the mass incarceration epidemic of this age and Stevenson shares unbelievable stories that illustrates names and communities along with the statistics. “But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, healing,” causes us all to reflect on the work we do and how we do it.




Reader: Yolunda Bass, MTR Instructional Coach and Assistant Residency Director
Title: School Principals’ Leadership Style and Teachers’ Subjective Well-Being at School
Author: Mati Heidmets, Kati Liik
Why I’m reading this: I’m interested in how principals’ (and coaches’) methods for giving feedback affect teacher morale and confidence.



Reader: Dr. Robin Henderson, MTR Director
Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Why I’m reading this book: I identify a lot with some of the author’s feelings and struggles with being an African American growing up in the era when we did. I’ve recommended this book to everyone who’s seen me sitting and reading it! I think it’s a must-read especially for the twenty-something African American because it gives voice to some the struggles they face in understanding current events and racial tensions in our country.




Reader: Jessica Johnson, MTR Instructional Coach & Development Director
Title: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Author: Carol Dweck
Why I’m reading this book: Mindset describes the positive impact of having a “growth mindset,” which conceives of our abilities as able to be increased, rather than a “fixed mindset,” which conceives of them as unchanging. By fostering a growth mindset in our students, we help them see that hard work pays off in new learning and accomplishments. A growth mindset contributes to students’ love of learning and reduces their fear of failure. Mindset was faculty summer reading at Kingsbury High School (Go Falcons!), so I also look forward to being able to discuss takeaways from the book with the KHS teachers I coach.



MTRblog_jesusanddisinheritedReader: David Montague, MTR President
Title: Jesus and the Disinherited
Author: Howard Thurman
Why: This was mentioned to me as the most influential book in Martin Luther King’s life and extremely formative in MLK’s philosophy for civil rights advocacy. Why: This was mentioned to me as the most influential book in Martin Luther King’s life and extremely formative in MLK’s philosophy for civil rights advocacy. His chapter on Fear is quite powerful. He was directly speaking to the African-American community of the 1940’s. Yet, his comments to any of us that feel fear and insecurity within new places and classrooms still carry much value. For new teachers, I thought during this early time in new classrooms, his wisdom would be as encouraging to you as I’m sure it was to the readers living deeply within the Jim Crow of America.





Reader: Alison Martin, Recruiter
Title: From the Courtroom to the Classroom: The Shifting Landscape of School Desegregation
Author: Edited by Claire E. Smrekar and Ellen B. Goldring
Why I’m reading this book: Matt Campbell, MTR Coach, recommended this book based on my interest in the demographics of Memphis schools. The history of desegregation and the lack thereof in American cities has a historical narrative and statistical explanation that is fascinating and disheartening.




Reader: Kathryn McRitchie, MTR Instructional Coach and Instructor for Learning Theories and Intensive Studies in Secondary Social Studies
Title: Down at the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear
Author: Aram Goudsouzian
Local tie: This book was written by the U of M history department chair.



Reader: Matthew Campbell, MTR Instructional Coach and Assistant Residency Director
Title: The One Best System: A History of Urban Education in America
Author: David Tyack
About this book: This book chronicles the bureaucratization of American schools in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Tasked with converting hundreds of rural school districts into modern systems of education, educational experts adopted business principles in pursuit of their overarching goal: efficiency. Tyack examines how these principles translated into new systems that school districts adopted in the face of increased urbanization and growing student diversity. Exhaustive and cogent, The One Best System provides an excellent framework for understanding the history of American Education.


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Reserved Seating: How To Make Seating Charts Fun

Author: Jessica Johnson | MTR Coach and Director of Development


Caitlyn Kennedy, Melrose High School English teacher and MTR Graduate, created a seating chart like the one above to keep track of where everyone is sitting and—without opening her computer or taking out a pen—to make adjustments as needed.

Here’s how to do it:

Create a diagram of the desks in your classroom. You can do this with text boxes in a word processor, a pencil and graph paper, page layout software, or some other means. Make a photocopy for each class period and label the copies for each class period (e.g., 1st period, 2nd period).

For each class period, write each student’s name on a Post-It flag using a permanent marker like a Sharpie. Place each student’s Post-It flag on his/her seat. You can move Post-Its around as you experiment with whom you should seat where.

Slide the seating chart into a sheet protector. Make a photocopy for your co-teacher, coach, substitute teachers, or anyone else who needs to know who is sitting where.

When you want to move a student, simply move the Post-It flag.

When you want to form groups, you can easily have students look at the label on their desks (e.g., A1, E4, etc.) and form either a letter group (e.g., a group including students sitting in desks A1, A2, A3, and A4) or a number group (e.g., a group of students sitting in A1, B1, C1, etc.).


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Overheard in English teacher Meg Ryan’s class when a new seating chart was posted on the projector:  A student walked in and said, “Reserved seating. I like it.” Love this student’s positive framing! She knew Ms. Ryan had planned a great classroom environment with attention to each student. Assigned seats aren’t so appealing, but reserved seating makes me think I’m walking into a Grizzlies game! You can use the term “reserved seating” with your students too.

#MSBF2015: Literacy Summit

Last week, several MTR Staff and Teachers attended the Literacy Summit presented by Literacy Mid-South in conjunction with the Mid-South Book Festival. The purpose of the summit was to bring together “nonprofit and government agencies, community advocates, volunteers and adult learners to network, develop new skills and share promising practices.” There was a wide variety of sessions presented by local, state and national educators. The knowledge shared was helpful and inspiring. Below are some of the key take-aways recorded by MTR Staff.

David C. Banks, Eagle Academy

  • Resilience is exemplified in Muhammad Ali. When asked what was going through his head after he got knocked down he said, “To get up.”
  • Our role as teachers is not to “pass judgement” on students, but to “ensure safe passages.”
  • At Eagle Academies, parent meetings occur on Saturdays because that is more convenient for families. The schools provide food for parent gatherings.
  • Parents from each grade have responsibility for a different aspect of school life (field day, awards, etc.)
  • Parents let the school know about community resources they are aware of (scholarship opportunities, etc.).
  • “We are starting at the finish line.” Field trip to Columbia University occurs the first week of school so that students can see, feel, and taste college life from the beginning of high school, and therefore can desire college and work hard to get there.

Josh Clark, Bodine Schools

  • Low literacy is a community epidemic.
    • End of 2014-2015 3rd grade reading in SCS was 73.4% below grade level (87% for ASD)
  • A person would have been more likely to survive the Titanic than be a proficient reader in Memphis public schools!
  • A Language Desert is defined as communities where poor kids are 12-14 months below in reading language.
  • Reading is a Science that took 2,000 years to create, but we expect kids to learn in less than 2,000 days.
  • Reading ends with comprehension.
  • “Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” -James Baldwin

Jeff Edmonson, Strive Together

  • Collective Impact goes beyond blaming and talking about the problem.
    • Collective Impact= Data+Experience+Intellect+Passion
  • Avoid a “spray and pray” approach of simply dispersing resources all over the place and praying it works out.
  • Our challenge is that we are program rich but system poor.
  • Collective impact is aligning services, making them readily available. Not creating a new program.
  • Collaboration vs. Collective Impact
    • Convene around a program vs. Work to move outcomes
    • Prove vs. Improve
    • Add to what you do vs. Improve what you do
      • Don’t add to what you do, learn how to do what you do better.
    • Advocate for ideas vs. Advocate for what works
  • Data is a flashlight to provide insight for improvement.
  • 4 Lessons on Collective Impact
    • Build a culture of continual improvement (how my actions connect to the outcome
    • Staff matter
    • Collective Impact depends on individual and organizational action
      • With more data on what works you can influence the money that is being invested in you
    • Structure Action
      • Key principles:
        • Eliminate disparities
        • Leverage resources
        • Bring data to the community
        • Give the work back to the group
  • When people make excuses for failure , show them others who are in a similar situation who still succeed.
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Play Your Role


View More: http://gretchenshawphotography.pass.us/mtrcamp2015Loren Roth worked in Memphis for seven weeks as an MTR Camp Summer Intern – Math Teacher. MTR Camp is designed to provide academic enrichment within a summer camp experience for elementary students who live within MTR partner neighborhoods, while exposing interns to urban education and the residency program. Loren reflects in this post on joining MTR’s mission of “Christian love expressed in equal education.”

Author: Loren Roth | MTR Camp 2015 Intern | Duke University

We may catch a glimpse of them in pictures. We may even see their faces flash briefly across the screen in film, but we will never hear their names. We will never know their stories. The thousands of men and women who walked countless miles across the city of Montgomery in 1956 to protest the discriminatory bussing policies understood what it meant to play their role. I can only image how as the weeks turned into months and the cool-bite of winter turned into the heavy heat of summer it would be tempting to say, “This isn’t working. It is time for me to try something new, lead a new movement.” After all, there was nothing glamorous about walking several miles to work in the unbearable humidity of Alabama in August knowing full well that your name would never appear in the history books. However, it was the relentless support and bravery of the thousands of unnamed civil rights activists, their willingness to engage in the seemingly mundane, which led to the official desegregation of the Montgomery busses on December 21, 1956.

Nearly sixty years later the struggle for justice in policy and in action continues, and nowhere is that struggle more clear than in education. Coming in to MTR Camp this summer I was bought in to the idea that “urban education is the greatest social justice and civil rights issue in America today.” I had learned in classes and seen the data about how closely a child’s educational attainment is tied his zip code and income bracket, and I wanted to do something about it.

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As I rising senior, I was entering my last summer before having to figure out what I was going to do in the “real world” praying this summer would give me some clarity about where I would fit within the world of urban education.  I had dreams of writing thought-provoking books like Jonathan Kozol, or leading a community empowerment organization like John Perkins, or maybe even defending the voiceless in court like Bryan Stevenson. I knew change was a slow process. I recognized it wouldn’t happen in isolation. I was fully aware that change would only occur when actors in a variety of sectors and roles worked together toward a common goal. But in the landscape of justice in education, I wanted to be one of the Martin Luther Kings preaching to thousands, not the nameless bus boycotter walking three miles to and from work each day with sweat dripping and muscles aching.

However, as the five weeks of camp went on, my white-knuckled grip on my perception of success began to loosen. During orientation David Montague argued that the people who are closest to the issue have the most power to effect change, boldly implying that as classroom teachers this summer we would do more for the children we were serving than he could as the president of MTR. In the beginning I struggled to embrace this idea, after all it is not the foot soldiers whose names we remember, and I have never seen a kindergarten teacher make Forbes’ list of “30 Under 30.” Then during week three of camp, Leroy Barber spoke the words that my experience had been teaching me but I had yet to understand:  “Some days you get to pray with folks. Most days you get to sit down and teach math. Do it.”

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Effecting change may not look like writing best-sellers or arguing for justice in front of the Supreme Court. Some days it looks like wearing Halloween costumes to explain “more” and “less.” Some days it looks like screaming “I love to learn” until you lose your voice because you want kids to believe they are intelligent. Some days it looks like tears running down your face because there are only four more days until parents will be arriving to watch their kids on stage and no one has any idea what they are doing. Some days it looks like just showing up.

Two months ago when I looked at the daunting task of bringing equity and justice to education, I dreamed of doing something big. I wanted to develop policies or advocate in courts or lead non-profits. However after spending a summer in Memphis, I dream of doing something bigger.

I want to teach.

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A Journey to Memphis

The MTR Residency Class of 2017 Application Season opens today, September 1!  Tory Lang shares her journey to Memphis in the blog post below. Tory interned at MTR Camp in 2014, graduated from Duke University in May 2014, and began Memphis Teacher Residency in June 2015. The reflection below was written as she began the MTR Residency year three months ago. As you consider applying to MTR or know of friends or family members who should apply, keep in mind that there are over 239 unique paths to Memphis that each MTR resident and graduate experienced! Fall applications are due November 22. Apply here!

Author: Tory Lang | MTR Class of 2016 | Resident at Collegiate School of MemphisIMG_20150604_015257

I am about to start the Memphis Teacher Residency. Well, I’ve technically begun already since I have moved into the Georgian Woods, started orientation, and most importantly, received this gigantic stack of textbooks.

How did I get here? The short answer is a Honda Civic. The much longer answer involves moving all the way across and then halfway back across the country to learn more about what it looks like to try to live out the fullness of the Gospel.

I was born and raised in San Mateo, California. My family still lives out there, and they are number one on the list of things that I miss most about the now drought-afflicted region, followed closely by fresh produce and seafood. After almost 18 years in that beautifully un-humid land of sunshine, I moved to Durham, North Carolina. It was there that I first experienced the four seasons, but more importantly, where I learned about MTR. My interest was piqued by the summer opportunity to intern through MTR Camp.

Tennessee was one of the last places I expected to find myself, but I was intrigued by MTR’s mission and vision. At first glance, I saw an opportunity to teach with an organization that believed in the Gospel. But as I arrived for the first time in Memphis last summer and received the most intensive orientation week I had ever experienced, I started to get glimpses of a much bigger picture than just an organization that believed in the Gospel. I learned that MTR is very much about living out the Gospel.

My MTR Camp summer was characterized by learning. Beyond learning merely the instructional strategies for how to communicate number sense and math concepts to elementary school students, as an MTR intern I also learned about the importance of community and life-giving friendships. I learned about spiritual disciplines. I learned about the depth and power of stories and that though my experiences may be drastically different from another’s, we can still come together at the foot of the cross. I learned how to put words to the unspoken prayers in my heart for the little image-bearers of God who are my students. And that because they and I live in a broken and sin-infected world, as a result, everything is affected. But God loves. And God redeems. And God restores.

Last summer, I got just the slightest yet sweetest taste of being part of God’s restorative work. Seeing and being encouraged by people responding to and taking part in this work drew me back here to this city less than one year later.

These small glimpses of what God can do and has done have whet my appetite. And the best part is that all of this is only the beginning. Here — in Memphis, Tennessee — I am about to start.


Back to School (for the first time) at Cornerstone Prep Denver

Cornerstone Prep – Denver Campus opened doors for their first students on Monday, August 10. Cornerstone Prep, an MTR partner school since Cornerstone Prep – Lester Campus opened in 2012, expanded from the Binghampton neighborhood to Denver Elementary School in the Frayser neighborhood for the 2015-2016 academic year.  Ten MTR grads were hired for Denver’s inaugural year. Read about week one below.
11694097_852588649859_8843606166575877662_n “I have been humbled and inspired by my visits to Denver during the first week of school. As you walk through the halls and talk to faculty and staff, unity is apparent. There is a united front that believes whole heartedly in each and every child at that school. I can’t help but count my blessings each time I go. I am thankful to be a part of it!”
-Danielle Ringold | MTR Instructional Coach
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“Cornerstone Prep Denver has been an amazing place to work so far! The care for teachers, students, and parents is unreal. I am excited to continue to grow with my fellow teachers and staff members this year and to see life and confidence in my students. We are teaching and training future community leaders and activists!”
-Sierra Tellis | Fifth Grade Teacher
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“I am so excited to be at Denver teaching kindergarten! There’s nothing better than having a kiddo tell his dad on his first day, ‘I LOVE school!’ It has been a great gift to teach with so many MTR grads. All of us first years are able to support and lean on each other, and those in their second year have been extra sweet encouragers and helped me think through how to better support and teach my students. Tough days are a thousand days better when MTR family are there to help you with your students, encourage you, and remind you of the Gospel.”
-Anna Hollidge | Kindergarten Teacher
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“It is such a wonderful opportunity to serve my fellow MTR graduates in the area of special education. I find myself in a unique position to assist in the development of great strategies to reach the students labeled as ‘different’. It has been mind-blowing to be in their classrooms and see them use their gifts in amazings ways. I see a great difference when in an MTR graduate’s classroom.”
-Domenic Andolina | Special Education Teacher
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“I have absolutely loved working at Cornerstone Prep Denver. The leadership at CPD does an excellent job of leading the school well and supporting the teachers. I am a first year teacher and anticipated this year being difficult and busy. Both of those have/will be true, however, I’ve been with my kindergarten students for less than a week and I already love them! I come home laughing on a regular basis because of the crazy things they say or do. I am encouraged by my students, my co-teacher, the staff at CPD, and my MTR Coach. I know this is going to be an amazing year!”
-Brooke DeBoard | Kindergarten Teacher
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“I am delighted to be under the leadership of Diana Bey. And may I say, this week has been a sweet struggle. There have been barriers, behaviors, and there’s always a way to doubt yourself. But in those moments Diana is always there to assist and affirm. I love my students and my team!”
-Starr Garrett | First Grade Teacher
Generation | MTR logo

“Giving Time Back to Memphis Students”

Author: Emma Mansberg | MTR Volunteer | St. Mary’s Episcopal School c/o 2017

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This ideal is at the heart of both Generation Watches and Memphis Teacher Residency, and MTR is ecstatic to announce its partnership with this amazing and innovative new company. Founded by brothers, Matt and Jonathan Nason, Generation Watches has a mission to “give time back” to youth around the world by donating a portion of the company’s profits to support education. Throughout the months of August and September, Generation Watches will donate 50% of its profits to MTR.

Generation Watches is a business motivated solely by giving and the biblical ideal of charity. Each of them strongly believes that the more that Generation Watches is able to give, the more successful they are as an organization. Even more impressive though is this company’s commitment to making a difference in the education and the lives of children all over the world. They saw the problem and they sought to find a solution.

Matt and Jonathan were first confronted with the effects of a lack of education while visiting the small town of Buena Vista, Guatemala. During their time there, they watched the cycle of poverty move before their eyes. They watched children drop out of school to help their families tend to their farms and never to return to education, and they watched young girls be faced with pregnancy and an expectation to remain in the home as housewives. But, they also saw through the work of their friend’s organization, Educate Buena Vista, the profound impact education can have on this vicious cycle of poverty. For $850, one student can be funded to attend Educate BV’s high-tech middle school in Magdalena, Guatemala. Organizations like Educate BV are changing the statistic that only 1 out of every 10 students in Buena Vista finishes grade school. So, Matt and Jonathan sought to find a way to support organizations that have a commitment to education. They brainstormed, and they chose watches. But why watches?

People often say, “You can’t buy time”, but by purchasing a Generation watch, you are doing just that. The profits from these watches give time back to the young people of Guatemala. By giving a child the opportunity for higher education, he or she can get a higher paying job and break this cycle of poverty not only in Guatemala but now in Memphis. This partnership between MTR and Generation Watches allows us to give back time to the youth of our city. So, starting today, August 1, support our community and its journey toward better education, and while you’re at it, buy a watch!

2015 Residency Year in Review

The MTR Class of 2015 celebrated their graduation with a Masters in Urban Education at the annual MTR Victory Party on Friday, May 15. Christy Anderson, graduating resident of the Class of 2015, shared the address below.


Good afternoon, Class of 2015. Here we are. At the end of a long road…it’s not really the end.

Rather the end of the beginning. When David asked me a few weeks back to give the resident address, he asked me to provide some sort of a review of our residency year. My mind immediately went to TIME magazines “year in pictures” but I thought “Hannah already covered that at mentor appreciation”. I considered taking us on an interactive walk through the MTR 2015 Facebook group, but ya’ll…we talk on there way too much for that. I sat painstakingly scrolling for 15 minutes one day determined to get to the bottom. Would I use David’s e-mails? I could do that. Post some nice capitalized, bold-faced words on the screen. Let the coursework talk? “In the words of Tim Keller…” But that didn’t exactly convey the messages I wanted to send. So I settled for a conglomeration of them all. It doesn’t allow me to wrap it up with a nice, neat bow, but it captures who we are, what we went through, and the things we accomplished. With no further ado…here is our year in review

The Summer

It started out like any good summer camp does – ice breakers on ice breakers on ice breakers. We all approached those first few days differently. Many came in bright eyed and full of excitement. Some came in with pits sweating. We were reluctant, hopeful, skeptical, self-protective,encouraged, the list goes on…But we all had one thing in common; we came expecting something from MTR and one another and believing something about the work we were about to do here in Memphis.

As the summer progressed, we began to conform those expectations and beliefs to those of MTR and those of our Creator. That’s not to say that we all came out the same on the other end, but we did begin to take on a shared mission for our city and common vision for what that may look like. We learned to view our work as part of God’s work of reconciling the created to Himself, to one another, and to creation. We began to learn the importance of engaging and sympathizing with the stories of those we come into contact with – whether those stories are a minute or centuries old. We learned to lament the broken places and turn to God for justice. We learned how we would best go about coming alongside God in His fight for justice. And we fought to break free of an “us” and “them” mentality where it is our job to educate others out of brokenness.

Stepping back and connecting reconciliation to God’s story helps us move away from dramatic visions of fixing the world, as if our job were to provide solutions to problems outside us. If Christians believe anything, it is that no one—including ourselves and the church—is separate from the brokenness as an untainted solution to the problems of our world…The dividing line between good and evil runs straight through each one of us.  (Katongole & Rice, Reconciling All Things)

We were filled to the brim with words of wisdom like this. We read and read and read…and read some more. All the while forming a community. MTR is masterful at facilitating that. I can’t speak for you all, but I found this summer living in community to be life-bringing, encouraging, energizing, protective and filling. I can’t tell you how many Facebook posts from the summer had to do with people eating together, offering to feed someone else, or for a few of us…asking to be fed by someone else. Watermelon, chips and salsa, guac, sushi, kombucha, spaghetti squash, waffle cones [only on Wednesdays], donuts, gluten free and dairy free treats, coffee, Jerry’s snow cones, pancakes…

We enjoyed game nights, afternoons on the lawn, Memorial Day parties, group dinners out, AMERICA World Cup watch parties, study breaks, summer concerts, karaoke nights, Redbirds game and so much more. There were a couple of videos on Facebook that I wanted to insert here – Johnathan reading like a farmer, Mitch doing Tooty Ta, Jasmine and Ben belting it at karaoke, – but I couldn’t figure out how to insert them from Facebook. You’re welcome.

And at the heart of it all…whether thinking about our work as teachers, coaches, community members, friends, or family, the goal of our summer was to realize our role in seeking reconciliation for our city. Corbett and Fikkert said it best in When Helping Hurts

It all goes back to the definition of poverty alleviation. Remember, the goal is to restore people to experiencing humanness in the way that God intended. The crucial thing is to help people to understand their identity as image bearers, to love their neighbors as themselves, to be stewards over God’s creation, and to bring glory to all things.


The Fall

Fall came and with it came the excitement of being in the classroom – finally ready to put into practice all the theoretical, practical, and theological beliefs and skills we’d been filling ourselves with for the last 3 months. Little did we know that we weren’t really all that prepared. Not sure what you all thought we were going to do, but I subconsciously believed that my perspectives and belief in my students alone would change their academic performance and foster behavioral success. Ha! So we failed…and we failed…and we failed again (Thanks Robin!)

The fall was hard as we fought to manage our time, keep up with our goal of 100% of residents doing 100% of readings (Sorry, Robin…), honor our mentors, find success in the classroom, and keep up with our social lives (more like lack thereof). Christmas break came as a welcome reprieve from the stress, drain, and strain of fall focus.


The Spring

Spring brought the stress of Lead Teach but it also brought a lot of freedom. Back again were the Saturdays of old (though many were spent planning or prepping for Monday). Classwork was less. Planning became easier. We were granted control. We tried out our own styles and felt the pressure and responsibility of being on our own in our classrooms. It was a lot of work, but it was liberating! Maybe we would make it at this whole teaching thing after all…

And then as an act of mercy, the Lord granted us 1, 2, 3, what seemed like endless days off for “Snowpocalypse 2015” just after most of us finished our Lead Teach experiences.

Our Spring semesters looked different as “by mentor and coach discretion” took on many forms. Some of us gained free time as instructional responsibility slowly dwindled. Others were thrown back into – or simply kept on – lead teaching. We took field trips, enjoyed fun in the classroom, led projects and programs.

Job talk picked up. I loved hearing the buzz about who was interviewing where and what jobs people had accepted. Shelby County schools’ deadline made (and still makes) many of us nervous. As we depart from here there are many things we know about one another and many things we don’t.

In fact, in thinking about what I would say about Spring, I was struck by how much I truly don’t know about everyone’s story. At first, this was disheartening. How could I walk through this difficult season in community with these people and still feel disconnected from your stories. It made me realize how much of a blessing this year has been for us and for the city. We represent 60 stories, 60 experiences, and give or take 1,500 years of experience that is being leveraged to reconcile relationships here in Memphis. We have experienced change together – deep, lasting heart change.


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Growth in Forgiveness

Author: Hayley Moore | MTR 2012 | English Teacher at Kingsbury Middle School

Last week I attended my cohort’s Ultimate Victory Party. This is a celebration of fulfilling our four year commitment to MTR. My friend Rebecca spoke that evening of how deeply we have all learned joy from our time in MTR. I am reminded of James 1:2-3. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” I will not achieve perfect steadfastness this side of heaven, but I clearly see how the Lord used teaching in my life to produce a more unwavering, unshakeable foundation in me.

One of my biggest personal applications from teaching is my growth in forgiveness. Teaching necessitates it. The student who was disrespectful to a peer and saddened me yesterday will walk into my class 4th block; the student who tried my patience and personally offended me today will be in my classroom tomorrow morning. My faith is tested; my sin nature is stoked. However, I have learned that quickness to forgive keeps bitterness at bay. As a first year teacher, I possessed a lot more bitterness. Resentfulness is personality poison. Over time, I have become less easily rattled and more forgiving. I have become more unwavering, more steadfast. This is the Lord’s promise to me in James 1; tests produce steadfastness.

Of course, as a human, I often fail to count my trials as joy. 999 out of 1,000 times, I don’t mentally frame trial as the Lord’s refinement tool. I read verses like James 1:2-3 and think, “Man, I’m failing at remembering joy.” However, the gospel truth doesn’t condemn! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

My time in MTR taught me trial is a guarantee. The Lord’s refinement of me is not contingent upon my joy. I get to experience joy when I acknowledge the work He is doing in me.