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Education and the Beloved Community

Author: David Montague | MTR President | Excerpt from Community Matters: 2014 MTR Yearbook

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In 1819, Washington Irving wrote a short story titled “Rip Van Winkle.” In it, an idle farmer named Rip Van Winkle wanders across a group of odd men playing nine-pins and drinking moonshine. Rip joins in the fun, falls asleep, and awakens—at first unknowingly—20 years later. As he returns to his town, much has changed, including the sign above his favorite tavern that now features a picture of General George Washington in the spot that formerly held the image of King George III of England. And there is the most interesting point of the story: Rip had, in fact, not only slept 20 years, but had also slept through an entire revolution.

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., would often use this illustration as an image of the many in our nation asleep in the middle of the civil rights revolution, unaware or unwilling to embrace it. Another revolution continues today in the realm of public, urban education. In the past 20 years we have seen an amazing change in the public education landscape with the creation of charter schools, alternative certification programs, school vouchers, Recovery and Achievement School Districts, state standards, the Common Core, and more.

When it comes to public education, the white evangelical church has for years been on the wrong side of history—asleep for decades, if you will. I notice a sort of awakening, however, among Christians of all races and denominations who are returning to an essential of our faith: serving the common good, beginning with the most marginalized. People are realizing that working for excellent public education is a valid response to God’s call to “bring good news to the poor . . . proclaim release to the captives . . . [and] let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18-19). The time is now to respond to the gospel by ensuring that all children, made equally in God’s image, receive a quality education.

As we describe in the 2014 MTR Yearbook, we engage in a gospel-centered response to the unfair differences in academic achievement between children in poverty and their wealthier peers. And our hope is that our work in education in Memphis will not only serve as our personal response to the gospel, but will also encourage the Church nationally. To that desire, I would like to propose an understanding of both the GOAL, or vision, and the MOTIVATION, or mission, for the Christian in education.

I. THE GOAL OF THE CHRISTIAN IS THE BELOVED COMMUNITY.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among people.” -Luke 2:14

II. THE MOTIVATION OF THE CHRISTIAN IS LOVE.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” -Luke 10:27

[Read the full explanation of the GOAL and the MOTIVATION in Community Matters: 2014 MTR Yearbook]

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Monday Teacher Highlight: Emily Wakabi

Introducing… Mrs. Emily Wakabi

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MTR Graduation Year: 2014
# Years Teaching: 1
Content Area: 3rd grade
School: Hanley
Hometown: Plymouth, MN
College Alma Mater: Moody Bible Institute
College Year of Graduation: 2011

 

Favorite Teacher Moment

During a free writing time one my of 3rd graders wrote down a list of colleges she wants to apply for someday.  At 8 years old they are starting to get inspired about college!  She listed the University of Cape Town, Yale, Stanford, Rhodes College, University of Memphis and a few others.  Our scholars believe they are college for certain!

 

Favorite Memphis Experience

I enjoyed going to Mud Island to watch the fireworks this last year.  It was wonderful to see people from all different walks of life come together in the city and relax down by the river to celebrate the holiday.

 

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

My worth does not come based off the “success” or “lack of success” of my lessons.  My worth is in Christ.  Secondly, pray daily and ask God that he would give you peace no matter how much chaos is around you.  Lastly, EVERY child is made in the image of God, just look in the face of a child and remember that when a child is having a very difficult moment.

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Dear First Year Teacher, There is Hope

Author: Stephanie Milazzo | MTR ’13 | Kingsbury High School | Blog Post from Make Straight Paths

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I recently found myself around a campfire eating caramel apples with some first year teachers. They’re awesome. They’re doing so well (they might not think so, but they are). But they’re weary, and I could see them hoping, but not quite believing that second year could be better.

And I know what it’s like to be there. I didn’t realize how hard first year was until it was over but it is hard.

I know what it’s like to feel the crushing weight of anxiety the second you wake up. To have dreams every night about that one student who might say that one thing. To feel your stomach turn over as you drive to school, trying to voice out prayers but not finding the words. To feel your heart sink as the students enter the building. To feel afraid of them, and what they could say or do. To feel like other teachers are doing so much better than you are and you’re not doing as well as you should be or could be and you are failing and your students are failing and maybe you weren’t cut out for this after all.

First year is survival mode. It’s feeling every emotion possible (and also some others) but never really having time to process any of them. So you just carry them around and feel them at low levels all the time, whispering words of uncertainty and doubt into you. And while that’s all spinning around your brain, you must lesson plan and grade and teach students and be evaluated and meet with parents and eat and sleep and try to spend time around people and have a life.

Dear first year teacher, you are doing something really hard. And you are doing it well. (“She’s never been to my classroom,” you scoff. “She doesn’t know!”) But I do. You are showing up every day, prepared, and you are teaching (or at least, trying to). That is incredibly brave and strong, do you know that? And on the worst days, when you feel they haven’t learned anything, they have seen you be there. And be kind. And be patient. Your faithfulness is courageous.

What does the Lord require of you? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. You will not run, jump, skip, sprint, or dance much this year. No one expects you to. Keep walking.

And for some light at the end of the tunnel! (Other second+ teachers, add your wisdom too):

Second year is glorious. If first year is walking up a mountain with 100 pounds on your back, and people are throwing things at you, and maybe someone will punch you in the face, second year is hiking (still uphill) on a day with nice weather with some good friends and a water bottle. Second year is the dream to first year’s nightmare.

Because that is vague, here are specifics:
My instincts are better. Situations don’t escalate in my classroom as often.
Students know me at my school. The students walked in day one with more respect for me, if only because I’ve stuck around another year. Not everyone does. (Although, luckily, a lot of people do.)
Things that used to be devastating (student calling me a name, blatant disrespect, other chaos) are now only vaguely annoying.
I have time and emotional energy to enjoy my students during class. (whaaaat?)
I don’t dread being in the school building.
Grading is quicker. Planning is quicker. I have energy at the end of day (sometimes) to do some of this at school.
Sundays are no longer characterized by crushing dread, now just passive sadness about having to set my alarm so early.
Fewer TEM evaluations!!
I think on my feet better, so if I plan for too much or too little, I can adapt very quickly (those instincts again).

Just all around gloriousness. I came home the first few weeks of school amazed at how different it was. I wasn’t even able to pinpoint exactly what was better, except for everything. Be encouraged! This is the teacher version of “it gets better.” I know you can hear it 5000 times and not believe it, but it really, really does.

Keep waiting for the good days. They happen from the beginning, and they get more and more frequent. You are doing well. Invest your time and tears now; it will reap good things this year and in the following years.

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD. Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the LORD.”

After this year, you will never again be a first year teacher!

 

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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.”

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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.

BEGINNING TOGETHER: LEARNING FROM TEACHERS WORKING TOGETHER

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

GROWING TOGETHER: CO-PLANNING, REFLECTION, AND MUTUAL SUPPORT

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.

STAYING TOGETHER: RETENTION AND TEACHER LEADERSHIP

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

 

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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.

 

Sincerely,

David Montague

MTR President

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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: www.QCommons.com/Memphis 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!

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Monday Teacher Highlight: Mr. Anzer

Introducing… Mr. Sammy Anzer

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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.