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Monday Teacher Highlight: Matt Cowan

Mr. Matt Cowan

Sixth Grade, Aspire Hanley Elementary

Hometown: Memphis

Education: Central High, University of Memphis

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Author: Matt Cowan | Excerpt from MTR 2014 Yearbook: Community Matters

After I graduated from the University of Memphis, I talked to my pastor about teaching. She had been a teacher and told me about MTR. I fell in love with the vision. I identified with many of MTR’s values— grounded in Christ, grounded in equality, grounded in leveling the playing field for everybody regardless of socioeconomic circumstances. I remember thinking, what better way can you do that than by becoming a teacher? You go into the places of greatest need, and you love the kids unconditionally.

By going to MTR, I could learn to be a teacher and also grow in my faith—by being surrounded by other believers and seeing how they worship and study. The residency year has been really faith-challenging. Sometimes when you are working hard, it can go totally wrong. Maybe you spent three hours planning a lesson, and it bombs. Or you tried your best to love a kid, and he resented it. You are trying and trying and it seems like you are failing. However, you eventually see progress. You begin to experience success. I realize that in those sufferings, my faith has been made stronger. That is something I’ve learned here: the practice of being faithful, of doing what I’m supposed to do so that God can do what he will do.

The MTR basement [where the resident workroom is located] is a wonderful place. I am there a lot, and other residents are there too. It is helpful to be able to teach your lesson to other residents or talk it out with them. You can shoot an email to the community of MTR teachers asking a question and get a response from somebody who has a great idea or resource. I can serve my kids better through that collaboration. The best thing is going through this year with a cohort of residents grounded in Christ. You have people with you, in the trenches, in the struggle, who are going through similar challenges. They can show empathy, understand that struggle, speak life into you, affirm you, and provide the feedback you need to get better.”


Professional Community at MTR

Author: Dr. Robin Henderson | Director of MTR | Article from MTR 2014 Yearbook: Community Matters

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The education reform movement has revealed that effective teachers can positively influence student achievement; yet working in isolation, they cannot transform schools or districts. At Memphis Teacher Residency, we believe that when a critical mass of effective educators works together as a team with students, students’ families, and community partners, schools can be transformed in lasting, positive ways.

From its inception, MTR has worked to establish a community of teachers who serve as supportive colleagues, thought partners, and friends for one another. Teaching is hard work—demanding considerable time, energy, intellect, and heart. To be a successful teacher for the long term, it is essential to have positive relationships with other teachers—relationships that offer opportunities for collaboration, feedback and reflection, and mutual encouragement. To create teams of educators working together and supporting each other, MTR clusters residents and graduates in schools in specific partner neighborhoods and also incorporates collaborative assignments into graduate courses. Thus, we optimize our impact on student learning and simultaneously foster supportive, productive relationships among MTR residents, graduates, alumni, and mentors.


The foundation of the professional community of teachers at MTR is built into the residency model. Aspiring teachers spend the majority of their preparation year in the classrooms of effective veteran teachers who serve as their mentors. This apprenticeship model means that all day long, four days each week, throughout the school year, MTR residents are in classrooms observing their mentors, co-planning with them, interacting with students, getting feedback from their mentors, and reflecting with the mentor as a thought partner. Daily communication and weekly classroom visits from the MTR staff coach (a former teacher) provide residents with an additional source of guidance, feedback, and ideas and help residents process what they are seeing and experiencing. Learning from the example of the mentor, receiving feedback from the mentor and the coach, and working in collaboration with the mentor and the coach establish the norms of observation, collaboration, and openness to feedback and reflection that characterize the MTR experience.

Coursework leading to a master’s degree in Urban Education complements the classroom apprenticeship, and instructors intentionally incorporate teamwork into many of the major assignments as another opportunity for residents to learn from each other and to encourage collaboration. Whether teams of residents are gathering information that they then share with the larger group or designing instructional experiences, their assignments often prompt them to work with and learn from each other. In addition, many residents take advantage of their proximity to each other in the same apartment complex by forming study groups for their master’s courses. The inherent collaboration of the residency year provides MTR residents with a model for how they can use the human capital in their school buildings


Community extends beyond the residency year through a teacher placement strategy that clusters MTR graduates together in specific MTR partner neighborhoods and schools. This strategy promotes collaboration and co-planning among MTR graduates, residents, and mentors as well as with other teachers in the building. It also helps the teachers to become invested members within a school community and neighborhood, as they work alongside principals, colleagues, and families to promote positive culture not only in the school, but also within the neighborhood. This strategy creates a sense of community because graduates in the high school serve the same families as their MTR colleagues at the elementary school. In addition to the collaboration and community among teachers in a given feeder pattern, the personal relationships and the habit of collaboration that graduates form during their residency also lead many graduates to co-plan or share resources with MTR graduates at other schools as well.

 Collaboration within Schools and Neighborhoods

This value of collaboration and co-planning extends across cohorts and often includes teachers who have not been trained by MTR. Over the last two years, the math department at Melrose High School has experienced the value of what is possible when teachers work together. Four MTR graduates along with veteran teachers have forged a professional learning community. Department meetings examine student achievement across courses and years and explore such topics as how to improve mathematical thinking across the grades and how to coordinate their explanations of some concepts so that students more readily generalize or apply knowledge from one course to another. The teachers also challenge each other to teach mathematical concepts and not simply procedures. This vertical alignment allows teachers to identify and close gaps in student knowledge and to introduce and engage with content that paves the way for deeper study in higher course levels. Teachers also share the work of instructional planning.

For example, one person develops lesson plans for geometry and shares them with everyone else who teaches the course. Teachers of the same subject also troubleshoot struggles in instructional delivery. When a teacher realizes students have not understood his explanation of new material, he will ask another teacher how he taught the same lesson and borrow the other teacher’s words during subsequent lessons. Collaboration extends to culture as well, with teachers meeting over the summer and communicating throughout the school year to share practices for classroom procedures, rewards and consequences, and classroom community. A professor of education visiting MTR and the Melrose team commented that the professional collaboration among beginning teachers there was like nothing he had seen before. The Melrose math department is pictured above, including this year two MTR residents.

The Kingsbury schools offer another example of collaboration, with vertical teams of the same subject area encompassing teachers at both the middle school and high school, and with grade-level teams working together on culture. The collaboration between two eighth grade English teachers offers a snapshot of how teachers working together can complement each other’s strengths, alleviate some of the planning load they face, and serve as thought partners for analysis of student learning. After completing their residencies at different high schools in the district, when the two teachers were hired to teach the same grade at Kingsbury Middle School, it was natural for them to tackle the work of their first year teaching together. During that year, they debriefed each day about successes and failures and strategized abut upcoming days. They also co-planned their first novel unit of the year and sat down together to analyze student data after major assessments. The following summer, they worked together to create a long-term plan for the next year. While one teacher’s strength lies in her creativity and ability to see the big picture, the other teacher’s strength is in the details of daily lesson planning and execution. They both have gained from the other’s strengths and have felt confident- like “real English teachers,” as they put it- and their student achievement data reflect their positive impact. It is noteworthy that MTR teachers seem to feel free from the competition among teachers that can result from the intense scrutiny and evaluation characterizing the profession today and instead are eager towork together and to share responsibility for results.

Next door at Kingsbury High School, faculty in the Ninth Grade Girls Academy work together to create consistency for students and alignment among teachers about community and expectations for the students they teach. All classes in the Girls Academy have shared “Class Pillars” that name the values (like integrity and respect) that underlie their work together, and teachers also share many routines and procedures.

Collaboration within Content Areas

In addition to collaboration within neighborhoods, MTR graduates collaborate with peers across the city as well, sharing resources and ideas with teachers who teach the same course or grade level at another school. These opportunities strengthen their classroom practice and create efficiencies, while also keeping teachers connected and enabling them to avoid the feelings of isolation that many teachers experience. Often, this looks like an email to teachers of a given subject area or grade sharing information about an upcoming professional development opportunity or teacher blog, or a request for ideas or materials for teaching a particular novel.

Some teachers have formed more ongoing partnerships. For example, three Algebra 2 teachers from two different neighborhoods regularly co-plan and share resources. Two teachers of ninth grade English do so as well—much to the surprise of a student who transferred from one school to another and discovered on her first day at the new school that she was on the same chapter in The Odyssey as her new classmates. Professional collaborations like these often grow out of and reinforce friendships, as in the case of the three math teachers who took a road trip together to go to Twitter Math Camp in Oklahoma.

Forums and Platforms to Support Professional Community

After their residency year, most MTR graduates begin establishing themselves in a Memphis neighborhood. Many choose to live with other members of their cohort post residency, often gravitating near the schools where they teach. Even so, we realized the need to facilitate continued community building within and between the cohorts after residents had graduated. One respondent to the MTR Census1 called this MTR’s “community model” of “living, learning, and teaching alongside a cohort of other like-minded individuals.” Monthly graduate workdays were initiated with our second cohort, based on feedback from our first cohort who often expressed that they missed the support and company of their cohort after graduation. We realized that the community established during the residency year was vital to our teachers both professionally and personally, and we committed to actively sustaining it. Years later, graduate work days serve as a time and place with first year graduates can reconnect with other members of their cohort as well as continue to grow professionally. Email lists for each subject area, grade, and cohort facilitate communication among MTR residents and graduates, and ad hoc gatherings reflect specific professional needs and interests and continue the tradition collaboration.


MTR actively works to keep graduates involved in community throughout the post-residency years. MTR graduates and alumni serve as selectors during our Selection Weekends. They have a voice in who follows them into this work. Graduates are engaged as teaching assistants in the graduate courses and as seminar presenters for other graduates and residents. Many even serve as mentors to new residents, and several have joined MTR’s staff. In response to the MTR Census question “What do you think you’ll do after your MTR commitment? Will you stay in Memphis?” one graduate responded, “I definitely plan to stay in Memphis for at least a couple more years if not more than that. I enjoy my school, the community I have built here, and the work that is being done to reform education. Until I feel that God has something else for me, I plan to remain in Memphis. I don’t see a career change in my future though.” Another teacher shared that the professional community attracted him to MTR and was indeed important to sustaining momentum during the residency year: “I could not make it through my difficult days if it weren’t for my roommate, friends, coach, mentor, etc.” It is our hope that the community established during the residency year serves as a foundation for camaraderie, collaboration, and long-term commitment that will lead to increased teacher retention and effectiveness throughout the neighborhoods where we work.

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The Gap Project

Where Are We Now? | Excerpt from MTR Yearbook: Community Matters

Author: Peter VanWylen | MTR Coach and Research Director

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Memphis Teacher Residency seeks a day when the students in our partner neighborhoods will have the same, or better, education as is available to any child, anywhere in Memphis. Tennessee is one of eight states that require all public and charter high-school juniors to take the ACT college admissions examination, and this data gives us a window into the readiness of students for college and the workplace. Because college readiness is a central measure of the need for MTR’s efforts and the progress toward our goal, we look to ACT scores in Memphis as an indication of the neighborhoods that may benefit from our partnership and as a measure of change in our partner neighborhoods over time.

To visualize this, we made a map of ACT scores in Memphis overlaid on median household income data for each census tract. The story this map tells is compelling and reminds us that education in our city is still separate and unequal. At some public schools in Memphis, particularly those located where household income is higher, an average student scores well enough to get into hundreds of colleges across the country. Yet at many other schools even the most hardworking and committed students struggle to get a score that hits the national average.

This map shows that many Memphis schools have average composite ACT scores between 14 and 16, while the best public schools in our county average 24. For reference, the diagram at the bottom of the opposite page helps explain the range of ACT scores and anchor them to real-world averages and college-readiness standards. The average student in many Memphis high schools is closer to guessing on every question than to being college-ready.

In the interest of promoting awareness, encouraging conversation around educational inequality, and providing geographic perspective on the achievement gap, we have created a web-based national map of average ACT scores and SAT scores alongside median household income. Data for twelve states are presently available, and we will add more states as data is made available.

We call it the Gap Project. Data exists on the site for twelve states and more will be added as information is available.

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MTR Yearbook: Community Matters



Another thing the Church can do to make the principle of brotherhood a reality is to keep men’s minds and visions centered on God. Many of the problems America now confronts can be explained in terms of fear. One of the best ways to rid oneself of fear is to center one’s life in the will and purpose of God.”

-Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s vision was for the freedom of all people—regardless of color—living with one another in peace and dignity. He called this vision the Beloved Community. And achievement of this vision, he taught, was dependent upon God’s love working through community, a “universal involvement” of people united around this one objective. The Church of today, and of Memphis, maintains this timeless vision for redeemed and beloved communities of peace.

We remember the apostle Paul, who shared a similar vision of people united regardless of race, status, or gender: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). And we agree with Dr. King’s instruction that these communities are best realized as we keep our minds and visions centered on God and our lives lived within His will and purpose.

Since our beginning in 2009, Memphis Teacher Residency has attempted to learn and practice an intersection of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the deep need within public, urban education. And so, taking the biblical value of community as our guide, we aim to address that need in a way that both honors existing communities and develops new community among our residents, graduates, staff, and neighborhood partners. And ultimately, we understand, it is a connection to the gospel of God’s grace—keeping our “minds and visions centered on God” as Dr. King said—that supplies the spiritual power necessary to sustain this movement and to grow the Beloved Community we ultimately wish to see.

For the purposes of this initial Yearbook, we have attempted to focus our writings largely around the distinctives that inform our views of community both within our MTR family and among our great city’s most marginalized neighborhoods. In the articles that follow, we discuss why community is a valuable end-goal, from both a theological and a practical perspective. We describe the type of community we strive to create within MTR, and the ways in which we foster it. We explain the role of the MTR professional community in training effective teachers. And, finally we discuss our partnership with schools and organizations in our strategic neighborhoods. The broader picture we hope you take away is that a peaceful, restored community is both the ultimate goal of our work and a powerful means for bringing about that vision.

We count it our honor to be able to partner with and learn from all who desire to serve the common good through education, beginning with the education of the most marginalized. We hope you will read and consider the ideas contained within our Yearbook, and, of course, we welcome your thoughts and conversations.



David Montague

MTR President


Q Commons Memphis

qcommons Author: Leslie Garrote | MTR Coach and Professor

Last April, I had the chance to attend Q:Nashville, a conference whose flashy online promo video and tag-line to “Stay curious; Think Well; Advance Good” caught my eye a few months earlier. Even though flashy isn’t really my style, I had a hunch that this gathering of Christians engaged in business, government, education, science, media, arts and entertainment and the church would serve as a great place to find resources for the Cultural Foundations class in our graduate program.

The best way I can describe my experience at Q:Nashville is through an old SAT-styled analogy:

Leslie: QNashville :: kid: candystore

For two days, I sat in the War Memorial auditorium in downtown Nashville and heard well-crafted presentations from musicians, theologians, economists, nuero-scientists and politicians who were all working in their areas of influence for the Glory of God and for the good of others.  I heard from academics like Brian Fikkert and Anthony Bradley, whose works on poverty and exile had already heavily influenced my thinking about education. I was also introduced to new ideas from writers and thinkers like Shauna Niequist, Paul Lim and Donna Freitas, who’s presentations brought insight into the need to give discriminately, the role of idea-generators to change culture, and the hegemony of hook-up culture on university campuses.

I came back to Memphis inspired and re-energized to think Christianly in my work as an educator and instructional coach and with a desire to share all that I learned with friends and co-workers. I was also excited about a new opportunity that I had heard about at the conference to share the Q experience with others in Memphis: Q Commons.

On Thursday, October 9, Q Commons will link 60+ cities and 10,000+ people for an important conversation about how we as Christians can advance good in our cities and communities.

Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) Ann Voskamp (Bestselling Author, One Thousand Gifts) and Andy Crouch (Christianity Today) will lead off the evening with 3 nationally broadcasted talks, and they will be followed by local presenters Dr. Robin Henderson (MTR), Dr. Todd Richardson (Crosstown Development Project) and Alan Barnhart (Barnhart Crane).

MTR is excited about co-hosting this event with Second Presbyterian Church, as it is a way to serve our community by gathering neighbors to hear and discuss thought-provoking presentations on issues that matter to Memphis. You can learn more about the presentations and register at the official event website: It is open to all so please consider bringing yourself, family, colleagues, bible study, book club, you name it. Part of the Q inspiration comes from Chuck Colson’s statement, “Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals.” Come take part in this vision.

I’m looking forward to gathering with neighbors, friends and colleagues to be educated and inspired to advance the common good in Memphis. I hope you’ll consider joining in!



Monday Teacher Highlight: Mr. Anzer

Introducing… Mr. Sammy Anzer


MTR Graduation Year: 2015

# Years Teaching: in residency

Content Area: English

School: Kingsbury High

Hometown: Queens, NY

College Alma Mater: Stony Brook University

College Year of Graduation: 2011

Favorite Teacher Moment.

Using my consideration to ask students if they have any preferred names, besides their given one. I now have: batman, superman, roadrunner, xylophone and worm in my class. My students are 17 years old.

Favorite Memphis Experience.

Going to get a maple bacon doughnut at Gibsons a moment before closing.

Most Unexpected (or Embarrassing) Classroom Moment? 

I have a quote wall; Mr. Anzer’s quote of the day. I didn’t realize until the end of the day that I added an ‘s’ to Mr.

What is best advice you received as a new teacher or what is your advice to someone considering urban education?

Take the work seriously and yourself lightly. Know that you’ll fall on your face–and that’s a totally cool and part of the job. Great work requires courage, persistence and a sense of humor. To be an urban educator, you need all 3.


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Christian Teachers in Public Schools

Author: Blake Lam | MTR ’14 | Aspire Hanley Middle School | 6th Grade Math

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A Christian teacher training program that places teachers in public schools – how does that work? Can you really live out your Christian faith in an environment where it’s unlawful to speak of that faith?

We often hear this sort of question after explaining the work of Memphis Teacher Residency. At first thought, this model – Christian teachers in public schools – doesn’t make much sense, but during my time as a resident and first year teacher, I’ve come to learn that it couldn’t make more sense.

To answer the first two questions, I’ll ask another – How does Christian faith influence the work of a public school teacher?

At the heart of our work lies the belief that all work is a continuation of God’s initial work of creation. God is moving His now broken world toward redemption through the work of His people. The construction worker, CEO, and teacher all play a role as God reconciles all things to Himself.

Once we understand that the work of all teachers is deeply important, we must ask: What does redemptive teaching look like?

The truths of Scripture shed light on how my faith is to affect my teaching practice: 

Each of my students is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and full of dignity, value, and potential. I therefore work diligently to ensure that all of my students learn because I know they all possess the ability to do so. When a student doesn’t perform well, I don’t simply label them as “low” and give up hope. I reteach the content in a way that more readily meets their needs.

I no longer live for myself but for Christ who gave His life for me (2 Corinthians 5:14-15), so I follow in His example and absorb all hurt that comes my way. I reciprocate with love when faced with apathy, distrust, or anger. When a student reacts with severe disrespect, be it harsh words or the shoving of a desk, I don’t get even by lashing out in return. I follow through with the established consequences for the good of my students and not as a means of revenge, all while showing the student love and respect. 

My citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21), and that is where my ultimate hope and identity lie. I am not defined by my students’ test scores or by how many kids’ lives I see transformed. My tireless work stems from a true sense of freedom and not from a place of fear or a need to prove my worth. 

These are simply three examples among many. All in all, I believe it is impossible for true Christian faith to not affect every aspect of my life – the way I treat others, the way I eat, the way I spend money, and the way I teach.

So, how does Christian faith influence the life and practice of a public school teacher? In every way.



(Unsolicited) Job Interview Advice


 Author: Christy McFarland | MTR Pre-Residency Director |


The MTR Application season opened a few days ago and our Pre-Residency team quickly shifted into recruiting and selection gears. As we review applications and conduct interviews, there are occasional missteps by applicants that can easily be avoided with a bit of preventative effort and attention to detail.

MTR is a complex organization – we ask men and women to respond to the Gospel by committing their professional work to the field of urban education. In the midst of this call and spiritual development, we provide significant training (a Masters degree in Urban Education and four years of individual and group professional development). MTR straddles the boxes of higher education, a mission organization, and a professional organization. As you develop and submit your application, it is important to realize that you are potentially signing onto a significant endeavor, personally and for the families and community you will serve. Your behavior, care, and attention to detail in this phase will have a significant impact on how we perceive your readiness for the privilege and responsibility of being a classroom teacher and working within a complex public education system, as well as receiving the residency benefits (housing, stipend, licensure, professional development, and a Masters degree for free!).

Last year I developed a tongue-in-cheek series called, (Unsolicited) Job Interview Advice, that covered some of the mistakes and errors that applicants made throughout the application process. A few highlights:

Use The Shift Key

Shift Key
The Shift Key is an important tool in the application process. Proper nouns require capitalization, especially your name, address, and college/university. Capitalization is a lesson learned in elementary school and you are applying to be a teacher!  This error can be interpreted as laziness or a lack of attention to detail and process. 

Follow Instructions and Meet Deadlines

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Deadlines are rarely negotiable and quite often impact other organizational functions. Don’t hijack your application by not paying attention to deadlines or instructions. This error can imply a lack of genuine interest and/or respect for the organization, as well as a lack of attention to detail!

Spell Names Correctly

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Do your homework! Misspelled names are another indicator of laziness or (yet again) a lack of attention to detail!

Read the Website

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Most of your program questions should be answered on the website. Don’t ever hesitate to ask any unanswered questions, however! Emails that simply say, “Tell me about your program.” or ask questions that are clearly answered on the website are warning flags. If you are unwilling to do the work to read a website and learn about an organization, are you willing to do the work necessary to succeed in the Residency program and earn the Masters degree?

Essentially … first impressions are important! Remember that every email and every personal interaction will impact the application and interview evaluation process. We don’t expect perfection. I promise! Failure and mistakes will happen, from the very first step in interviewing until retirement. We do, however, expect residents, graduates, and staff to work hard and do their best! Our work is not about ourselves but about honoring God and providing excellent opportunities for children and youth to learn and succeed.

Our recruiters and staff are here to help YOU succeed! Will you join us?

Shelley Family

Trust the Process.

Shelley Family

A story of encouragement for first year teachers.
Written by Danielle Shelley, MTR Recruiter; wife to Josh Shelley (MTR, ’12), mother of Harvey and Verity

It was about this time last year that I started feeling guilty about my job as a recruiter for MTR. I was newly pregnant and my husband had just entered the trenches of urban education at Cornerstone Preparatory School as a first year graduate of MTR.

Every day during the month of August I found myself holding my two year old on my hip, while tearfully pushing my husband out the door to go to a job that he dreaded. Every afternoon I waited nervously for him to come home and prayed that somehow things had gone better than the day before and that there would be a spark of joy or hope for the future. But never during the month of August did joy or hope come home with my husband from work.

Every day I had feelings of regret about our decision to come to Memphis and each time I went to work, I felt regret in my role at attempting to talk other people into coming and entering into this same tumultuous life that we were living. Instead I wanted to tell them to run far away and forget about Memphis and MTR.

I honestly did not think we would survive the month of August.

Josh was constantly on the brink of quitting his job and leaving us without health insurance with a new baby on the way, not to mention the $30,000 worth of debt that we would owe to MTR. We were days away from closing on our first home which just escalated my fear of failure should we find ourselves continuing down the path that it seemed we were headed on. We were on the cliff of emotional and financial failure.

It appeared that the situation of urban education was far worse than we had anticipated and it seemed that there was no way that we could actually make a difference. This endeavor seemed like a futile effort. Not only did I weep for my husband and the pressure he felt to survive in the classroom but I wept for the students he was serving. I felt like the obstacles they were facing in their young lives would likely prevent them from actually being able to get a good education. I kept telling myself, “How could I learn if _____ was happening to me?” and I would fill in the blank with an actual situation that a student was facing.  I was slowly giving up on the whole ordeal – MTR, my husband, the school, and the children.

Luckily this isn’t where the story ends.

Things S-L-O-W-L-Y got better.  Josh was offered a change to a different grade level after another teacher resigned and this gave him the opportunity to work alongside a few more experienced teachers as a way of possible survival.

Before I knew it, it was mid-September and miraculously we were still hanging on. We were still weepy when it was time to leave in the morning and there was still a lot of dread hanging over our heads, but slowly things continued to improve. Josh learned to lean on his coach for fresh ideas and insights about what to do in specific situations with specific children. He learned an absurd amount from the other more experienced teachers in his grade level, and slowly he developed as a teacher in his own right.

By Thanksgiving the situation was dramatically different. Going to school was still difficult and the children still provided plenty of behavioral problems, but things started to seem manageable and one day we noticed that the dark cloud of urban education seemed to be moving out of our midst. We finally had hope for what could be.

Things never got easy during that first year of teaching. As it turns out, teachers have to develop instincts just like parents do in order to figure out what to do when a child does something completely surprising and awful. A first year teacher is a lot like a first time parent learning what processes and strategies work. Time and experience is needed and very few (possibly zero) first year teachers have an easy time in the classroom.

We are well into August of Josh’s second year teaching and I cannot explain how dramatically different our lives are from one year ago. As Josh peddled away on his blue Trek bicycle in August, we smiled at each other and continue to feel hopeful about each day. He comes home tired but excited about how smoothly things are in his classroom. He’s amazed that students follow directions and at the difference one year has made in his confidence to lead the classroom. Josh can joyfully teach without the paralyzing fear that a student might do something that will throw off the entire day for everyone in the classroom. Josh believes that he is a good teacher. And he is.

If I could go back to myself a year ago I would tell myself to trust the process.

Yes, it’s going to be an absurdly difficult year but becoming a good teacher in an urban school is possible. MTR doesn’t hire amazing urban teachers who don’t need any help or training but they are providing the help and the training and are developing amazing urban teachers out of ordinary people.

Dig in to the trenches with all your might and soon, maybe in a couple of weeks or months, you will find that your situation is improving. You will begin to enjoy your students and your job. Your hope and your joy will be revived and you will start to believe in the mission again.

Trust the process.



Author: Lauren Farris | MTR Camp Staff  ’14| Calvin College ’15
This original post and other brilliant musings from Lauren can be found on her blog:

Memphis worked it’s way into my blood this summer.

I don’t know if this is a by-product of the absurd Mississippi Delta humidity or a side-effect of all the barbecue nachos, but regardless of how it happened, Memphis is a part of me now. Which means my family has heard too many stories which are much funnier to me than them, listened to impressions of some of my campers’ signature phrases, and looked at a lot of photos of people they do not know. So be thankful you don’t live with me.

As I spend the tail-end of my summer landscaping homes and picking vegetables at the farm, I keep replaying certain Memphis moments and dreaming of certain Binghampton people.

The mother who began to weep out of gratitude as I registered her child for Pre-K classes.

The two boys who won every dance-off, every time with moves I will never be able to do.

The camper who watched his cousin get shot earlier this summer and tried to be brave every day since.

How a camper thanked me for telling him earlier in the day to fix his attitude.

My camper who wants to be a soldier when he grows up.

The six-year old who read his first book ever this summer.

All of the little love notes I have accumulated after a summer being with some of the greatest teeny human beings on earth.

The almost tangible pride and very tangible tears as I watched the kids perform The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in front of a cafeteria packed with community members, parents, Memphis Teacher’s Residency and Cornerstone staff.

I catch myself flipping through photo after photo of these people, wondering what they are up to and hoping every good thing in the world happens to them. My heart usually doesn’t let me get away with not praying for them.

And I think I yearn to pray for them because I know that there is a cap on their value. There is a limit, due to institutional racism and personal prejudice, on who they can become. According to many societal systems, their stories do not hold the worth of others.

I cannot shake these moments, these people, that city because my story is now tied to theirs. One of my favorite words, ubuntu, is a integral piece of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s theology, simply meaning “we belong to each other.” So if there is a limit to their worth, then there is a limit to mine.

I have been graced to see injustice. I have been honored to look at inequality this summer.

I cannot look away. Even now, as I am writing this, some small, terrible little voice is saying “it’s fine! you can just keep on living as you were. don’t feel bad, there is injustice everywhere!” Ah, but that little voice is not Jesus. And Jesus is whom I take my cues from.

The real response to this gift is to leverage my own privilege so that my friends and neighbors of Binghampton, who are the images of God, may have full access to life.

I smile just thinking about it. I want to dance and sing and shout. Because their hope is my hope. Their wholeness is my wholeness. It matters that the weepy mother’s son gets an excellent education. It matters that my camper who wants to be a solider can choose to do so. It matters because without equality, the world will be missing out on all the incredible men and women of Binghampton who have beautiful things to contribute.

I am so grateful to love and be loved by Binghampton.

Sometimes it makes me want to cry and smile all at the same time.