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: laurenestellfarris.wordpress.com

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.

The Two Mary’s

I am finishing up reading through The Gospel of John. Late last week I read John 20:11-18 (see below) and the story of when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene after his crucifixion.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo′ni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Mag′dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The passage reminded me of John 19:25

So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother (Mary), and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag′dalene.

So, at the cross of Christ stood two (really three) Mary’s… Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Madalene. Which made me think of whom these two women were… Mary the Mother was the virgin. Mary Magdalene was the demon-possessed (probable) prostitute, “from whom seven demons had gone out from her” (Luke 8:1-3). Knowing the identity of each woman made me think, “Wow, Jesus came for the PURE and the PROSTITUTE. For the ‘PERFECT’ and for the ‘WICKED’”.

These two bookends of morality imagery encompass the entire scope of humanity. I journaled after reading these passaged: “Jesus goes to all creation. To all spectrums and everywhere in between. To the rich and poor; to the high and low; to the male and female; to the insider and the outsider; to the powerful and to the marginalized. To the good and bad. To the right(eous) and wrong. No one. No matter their gender, wealth, status, race, job, zip code… is outside the need for and love, affection and invitation of Christ. He is For all and To all.”

And so will we.
We, too, will be FOR all and TO all.
And to a world that is often FOR and TO only the most powerful, we will show love by being FOR and TO the least powerful to bring life and hope.

It is the way of Christ for us and for the world.


MTRReads 2014 Recap


Students who participated in after-school reading coaching with our team of over 80 wonderful volunteers learned on average 383 sight words since August! For many of our students who started the year far below grade level in reading, this is a HUGE difference in their ability to recognize sight words in context and to use more of their brain power for comprehending their reading, rather than just decoding words.

And do not underestimate the confidence-building benefits of this reading growth and personalized attention either. It was amazing when administering end-of-year assessments to see the confidence and self-assuredness of some of the same students who were hesitant to even attempt to read sight words at the beginning of the year.

And the year-end celebration was priceless.

Interested in learning more about MTRReads, and how you can help? Go here.

memphis teacher residency

MTR News: Residents Complete Lead Teach

memphis teacher residency

Lead Teach is the time residents find out who they are as teachers.
-Chandra Perkins

The gradual release model informs Memphis Teacher Residency’s approach to teacher training. As residents instruct our students in the classroom using this model, aspiring teachers like me also experience this type of gradual release throughout my academic training during the residency year as well.

Most simply explained, the gradual release model transfers content knowledge and skills from expert to learner over a controlled period of time.  The process begins with the expert or teacher explaining new information and modeling the steps involved in using that information to solve a new type of problem.  After the steps have been clearly defined, the teacher will attempt to solve more problems soliciting the help of the students and then will offer help to students as they solve problems with increasing independence.  Once the students have shown a thorough understanding of the content and how to apply it to solve problems, it is time for the student to try to solve problems without assistance from the teacher.

This, in essence, is the residency year. When I arrived in my classroom in August, I began the year by simply observing my mentor, Chandra Perkins.  I learned so much from watching her teach content and handle classroom management issues, and from receiving explicit advice on how to effectively teach and manage a classroom. Once I realized all that she had to think about from day to day, I was a little overwhelmed. But, as the year progressed, Ms. Perkins gave me more and more teaching responsibilities— from reviewing homework to introducing new content to teaching an entire class period. With her guidance and support, I gained more and more experience, and I was finally prepared for lead teach.

Lead teach is a three-week period in January when the resident bears the full weight of being a solo classroom teacher—taking attendance, planning lessons, teaching lessons, creating assessments, grading those assessments, making copies, addressing all behavior issues, and handling the myriad other responsibilities that teachers handle in any three weeks. This was my time to try to teach without any assistance from my mentor.

I’m pleased to report that my students learned a lot about function operations and inverses during this time.  And perhaps I learned even more! I have improved my teaching by reflecting on my instruction, student achievement, and classroom culture at the end of every day and even between class periods to figure out what went well and why, and what I could do better in the future. In addition, my mentor, the MTR coach who has been supporting me all year long, and other MTR coaches and staff have observed me and offered lots of feedback. In no other teacher prep program do you have seven or eight veteran teachers, who are only there to help you get better, come into your class to observe your teaching. What a gift!

After reflecting on my lead teach experience, my mentor, my coach and I have identified specific strengths and weaknesses in my teaching.  Our plan moving forward is to use the rest of the year to strategically work on leveraging my strengths and improving my weaknesses in order to get me fully prepared to have my own classroom next year.

It was a big deal for Ms. Perkins to entrust her students to me for three weeks, but having that opportunity will greatly benefit my teaching career and as a result bless my future students. I’m incredibly grateful for the process!

Nate Kirsch, ’14
Math, Whitehaven High School


Dr. Martin Luther King and the Beloved Community


As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute.  Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.   Martin Luther King, Jr. 1951

And it is this God who is the same yesterday, today and forever who has given man a vision of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.  This Kingdom is seen in the perfect communion among God, man, animals and creation in the Garden.  This Kingdom is seen in its coming glory as, again, a place of communion where people of all nations live together in peace without pain or suffering… “for the former things have passed away.”  In the gap between these two pictures of the Kingdom of Heaven, we live today in a society filled with the “former things” of sin and injustice.

And, as this God-follower Martin Luther King, Jr. fought against the sin of segregation and racism, it is important to note that he was NOT simply fighting for the morality of desegregation and equality of restaurants, bathrooms and schools (etc.) but for the creation of a BELOVED COMMUNITY where people of all races could live together in peace and harmony.

In his essay The American Dream, Dr. King says, “God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men.  God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race and in the creation of a society where all men can live together as brothers, where every man will respect the dignity and the worth of human personality.”

And soon after the Supreme Court decision (November 1956) striking down Montgomery, Alabama’s bus segregation laws, Dr. King reminded his audience, “Love your enemies.  Keep in mind that a boycott and its achievements do not in themselves represent the goal.  The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.”

Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community (the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth) is also the dream of all God-followers.  So we partner with schools to bring equality of education to all Memphis students.  And we seek this equality not simply so children are smarter (although that most certainly is a goal) but for the essential role that “sameness” in education can play in making our city a beloved community where people are blessed as they live with one another in peace and dignity.  It is this pursuit of the Beloved Community that gives MTR our sustaining spiritual vision when the romance of morality in education fades under the tide of sacrifice.


Daniel Warner

A Season Well Spent

We are called to faithfulness, not effectiveness. This stands out in a field as data driven as urban education. It flies in the face of the Protestant work ethic. And honestly it just makes me feel uneasy. Why would God call faithful servants to ministries that appear fruitless for His kingdom?  Isn’t a successful ministry a sign of God being with me?  Or the question that inevitably flows from frustration: how can I invest so much of myself in this work and seem to make so little of a difference?

Reality colliding with the world of ideals is an ugly ordeal.  That collision is guaranteed in almost any new season of life—going to college, falling in love, or getting your first job.  The challenges of the reality behind the neatly packaged title almost always end up punching holes in the idealized version of reality.  Urban education has been no different.

The month of October did the honors of punching my romanticized version of urban education in the face. October has earned a name for itself as the most notorious month of the residency year.  It seems to be a combination of equal parts dismantled idealism and skills – seeing enough by this point to know that there is no quick fix for the profound problems of the system, yet still developing the resiliency and toolbox of a veteran teacher.  It’s a tough tension to live in.

I came in knowing that schools were challenged and many students were not achieving at their grade levels, but seeing with my own eyes the extent to which my high school juniors struggled to construct a coherent paragraph, pronounce words like “rebellion”, or comprehend a cause-and-effect relationship was astounding.  The results from my history classes’ first big exam were deeply disheartening–some students did very well on the test, but many of my kids didn’t pass it.  I had spent the last two months of my life doing my best to convey the material in an accessible way, but a lot of my students hadn’t engaged with the information in a meaningful way.  I began to question my efforts, my effectiveness, and the reason I was even teaching at all if I wasn’t getting the results my students needed.

It was in these feelings of failure and frustration that the Lord began to open my eyes to the types of ministries he gave to his servants in the Bible, ministries that didn’t pay off, at least not right away, in the ways people expected. In a story from Acts, Paul and Silas are miraculously broken out of jail in Phillipi by an earthquake. Oddly, though, they choose to stay in their cell for the good of the jailer, who was about to take his own life because he had failed in his job of keeping the prisoners secure.

If Paul and Silas had been primarily concerned with efficiency and effectiveness in what they understood their mission to be, they would have left that jailer in the dust and boarded the next ship for a new city that needed to hear about Jesus.  Instead, they stuck around. They kept a bigger picture in mind and did not begin to worry when their idea of what God’s call should look like in their life no longer matched up with reality. In the process, the jailer and his family were converted before Paul and Silas continued on their way.

Even though Paul and Silas undoubtedly felt the pressure of reaching the largest amount of people possible, they did not appear in a hurry.  They valued the people they were with, even if that meant sitting in jail for an extra day or two.  They understood their call to make disciples of all the world, yet they were patient in the situations that seemingly delayed them from accomplishing their mission.  In Philippi, that patience simply sounded like the melody of a familiar hymn floating through the halls of a jail.

So, even in the moments of teaching that seem so fruitless, on the days where it seems like no child will ever show signs of improvement, and on the days where you wonder if God is still with you, remember the joyful sound of the melody sung by two men in a dark prison cell years ago. Listen closely for the sound that those faithful to God’s call have made throughout the ages.  It is a sound of restfulness and peace running directly against the exacting culture of efficiency and results. For our confidence does not lie foremost in our effectiveness as teachers, but in our faithfulness to Christ’s call on our lives.  And we can be confident that when following the call of our Father, every season, even seasons where growth is not immediately visible, is a season well spent.

Memphis Teacher Residency

Awards Ceremony Sparks Motivation

Sra. Cherise Clark uses a quarterly awards ceremony to motivate and recognize student achievement. Her strategy and procedures may be helpful for educators to develop an awards ceremony in their classrooms also.

MTRVoices: How did you develop the idea of an awards ceremony?
Sra. Clark:  I came up with the idea of the awards ceremony after watching the school-wide honors program. Students were so excited about receiving a ribbon that said they had done well. It made me remember the power of positive encouragement and recognition. A few weeks later, a student came running to me to show me what she had won an award for being a member of a club. I almost laughed when she showed it to me thinking, what kind of award is that?! But the look in her eyes showed me how very grateful she was. “This is the first thing I’ve ever won,” she told me. In that moment, I knew I could do better than that. So I decided to create the Spanish Awards.

What do you hope to accomplish through the awards ceremony?
My hope in that first ceremony was that in presenting students with an award, they would feel appreciated and that their hard work really had paid off. We did it at the very end of the year as a cumulative award, but I noticed that it sparked students to want to work harder. This year, we are doing it as an end-of-quarter event in hopes that as students are recognized, other students will strive for the same. I have had students say: “Oh! I saw the pictures of the awards online! I want one! I could show my mom. She would be proud of me.” Another student said: “I can’t wait until next quarter. I’m going to get that award!” I really want students to catch the idea that there is recognition for excellence.

What do you give awards for? 
I keep my categories for awards flexible so that I can always add other awards as I see excellence in the classroom. Since excellence can be shown in so many ways, I end up with an unexpected—and growing!–assortment of awards. The awards I always have are Most Hard Working Student, Most Improved, Most Helpful/Kind, and Most Spanish Speaking. At the end of the year, we add the King and Queen of Spanish awards for those who do excellently all around in Spanish. These categories ensure that the behaviors I want to see in class are reinforced. I am considering adding an Encouraging Award and an Attendance Award for next quarter to motivate and recognize those behaviors as well.

How do you prepare for the awards ceremony?
For the quarterly awards, I purchase award certificates from Knowledge Tree, which are simple and affordable and require little preparation. Selecting the students is simple since I have been monitoring their participation and behavior throughout the quarter.

At the end of the year,  I use a certificate maker online (free!) and create color copy certificates on regular paper. I then go to the Dollar Tree (best store EVER!) and purchase their $1 document frames. Last year I bought 35 frames for my students, which cost under $40 with tax. Giving them a framed certificate at the end of the year added value to the simple piece of paper I printed and made it seem like a much more important award. For me, if spending $40-50 dollars is what it takes to help my students understand positive recognition, it’s worth it. I had a student this year say, “Remember, Senora? I got the Queen of Spanish Award last year!” It’s simple, but it just means that much.

What advice would you offer to a teacher who is thinking of introducing an awards ceremony?
Choose the things you want to see reinforced in your classroom, create an award for them, give them cool names if possible, and make a big deal about it when you give the awards to your students. I always hide the names of the students and spend some time talking about the greatness of “this person” and then finally reveal the name and everyone claps and the students think it’s great to hear themselves talked about in such a positive way. This so seldom happens and it’s so special. The awards ceremony doesn’t have to cost a fortune or use up the entire day, but it’s about motivation. Take pictures of the students with their awards and post them for everyone to see. (I post photos of our awards on our website.) Make it obvious that this is something great.

What other ways do you motivate and recognize student effort and achievement?
In addition to the awards, I hang paper trophies and photos on the wall of all students who made an A or B in the class during the marking period. I put these out in the hallway so students can stop and look as they go by, as can parents and visitors. It’s fun to hear students in the hall saying: “Oh! She is doing well in Spanish! Look at her!” or “I know that’s not my friend! He’s doing great! I didn’t know he could do that!” To watch students show their parents is also incredible. I have had failing students say: “How do I get on the wall? What do I have to do?” I love to do anything that sparks a dialogue between students about excellence.

In addition, I have created a chart of all assignments and give students a sticker when they complete an assignment. They LOVE to count how many stickers they have in comparison to the other students (and yes, I teach high school–my 12th grade boys get angry if they don’t get their sticker for the day). It’s another way to encourage homework and classwork completion AND motivation!

It’s really wonderful to see how big an impact simple awards have on my students for giving them a sense of accomplishment and motivating them to work hard!


HOW YOU CAN HELP: MTR Reads: Impacting 3rd Grade Literacy

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Tuesday and Thursday afternoons on the third grade hall at Sherwood Elementary are surprisingly quiet, given the presence of 50 students and 40 volunteers gathered in five classrooms. The quiet comes from the diligent pairs huddled on colorful carpets and in small desks, working with flashcards and manipulatives to learn the Fry sight words.

Fry words are the 1000 most common words in the English language. Sherwood third graders are mastering as many sight words as possible during this crucial year of learning in order to “read to learn” for the rest of their school career.

Semester assessments showed that students are indeed mastering these words! Thanks to the incredible grit and determination of the students, and the dedication and commitment of more than 70 total volunteers, MTR Reads participants learned an average of 183 new words during the fall semester! This is incredible progress! Each 100 word list roughly equates to one grade level, therefore, many of our students grew between one and two grade levels in sight word recognition and, by association, their decoding abilities and vocabulary skills have increased as well.

This success is not be possible without the selfless giving of time by our community volunteers. Research has shown that students who can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade are more than four times as likely to drop out of high school as their peers – so our volunteers are directly impacting students’ futures. If you would like to be a part of the spring semester of MTRReads, sign up here or emailerin.myers@memphistr.org.

Dr. Robin Scott

MTR Expands Executive Leadership

MTR Expands Executive Leadership

David Montague
President, Memphis Teacher Residency

Dr. Robin ScottIt is with great pleasure and confidence that I announce to MTR friends and family that Dr. Robin Scott has been promoted to Director of Memphis Teacher Residency.

Robin has served well since the beginning of MTR, prior to the arrival of our first residency class in 2009. Her skill, grace, and experience make her an ideal and outstanding leader. Robin will be responsible for all aspect of MTR directly related to the residency program (pre-residency, residency, post-residency, measurements) and to the education efforts that directly impact the residency and our partner communities (e.g. MTR Reads and MTR Camp).

I (David) will transition into the role of President. This position will continue to be responsible for non-education aspects of MTR (administration, vision and strategy, board relationships, fundraising), the internal community-building aspects of our organization, and for cultivating strong relationships with our partner neighborhood organizations and families, the local church, and other Memphis and national partners.

Robin and I are excited about this move. It will allow MTR to benefit more fully from Robin’s talents and will allow me more opportunity to pursue initiatives that have previously been deferred or not fully executed. Additionally, Robin and I are both supported and encouraged incredibly well by the most capable and wonderful group of people and coworkers imaginable.

Memphis Teacher Residency

MTR NEWS: THEC Report Card | MTR Teacher Effect Data

Memphis Teacher Residency

On November 1, 2013, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) released the 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs. The THEC report is designed to provide data that informs the public on the effectiveness of teacher training programs and to provide teacher preparation programs the opportunity to improve the quality of their programs.

THEC found that “Memphis Teacher Residency [program has] more completers in the highest performing percentile in comparison to all teachers’ performance distributions across the state in the 4th-8th grade TCAP composite and math, as well as End of Course exam composite.”

The report summary states, “An analysis of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Report Card effect scores indicates that several programs have consistently produced teachers that are outperforming other teachers in the state or are on a significant upward trend in effectiveness scores.  These programs include [...] Memphis Teacher Residency[...].”

MTR is committed to providing students in our partner neighborhoods with an excellent education from kindergarten through high school graduation. We’re pleased that the THEC Report Card indicates that we are effectively delivering on that commitment and look forward to the continued work ahead.