An Open Letter To Robin

Robin Henderson, Director of MTR, concluded her seven year career at the Memphis Teacher Residency in March. As the MTR family prepares to celebrate her this weekend at the MTR Spring Formal, the time is right to share an open letter to her written by MTR President, David Montague. 


It is impossible to describe in one going-away letter the contribution and influence you have made to MTR.

The growth in both quantity of teachers served and in quality of program effectiveness during these seven years of the Robin Henderson Era has been nothing short of amazing.  While I have greatly enjoyed playing a role in this effort, no one has made a greater impact than have you.

Your leadership and skill both academically and relationally have formed a community of professionalism and high expectations alongside one of grace and joy.  I will miss many things about you, but your steady spirit, beautiful smile and quick-to-laugh personality are at the top of the list.

In our staff Robin Henderson HugFest yesterday afternoon, I closed with two comments about you that I want to put in writing…

First, everybody hears of, understands and feels the weight of your glowing reputation that precedes you, and you are – in fact – even better in person.  Your reality is greater than your reputation.  That’s a rare accomplishment.

Second, a mark of a great leader is how well organizations continue on after their departure.  Poor leaders leave organizations that implode with their departure. Great leaders leave organizations that thrive after their departure.

Thank you for how you have left MTR.  You gave us more than one year’s notice. You were able to spend meaningful time equipping Molly and others for their new roles.  You have allowed a potentially stressful organizational transition to be done in the most calm and normal way possible.  These are great gifts to MTR and will help sustain and fuel our future.

You have left MTR in a wonderful place today and I have no doubt that the best days for MTR lie ahead… largely because of the culture, community and people you have nurtured these past years, and now leave behind for us.

I know you love MTR.  And, as I hope you have felt over the past few weeks particularly, all that is the MTR family loves you.  You will be missed.

I know you will be tremendously successful in Kansas City.  You cannot fail.  For I’m reminded of the wisdom of Clarence the angel at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life… “Remember, no one is a failure who has friends.”   And boy do you have friends, especially and forever at MTR.

May God bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you… as He has done for as long as I’ve had the great pleasure to know you.

Your friend,


For information on Robin’s new pursuit in Kansas City, visit her school’s website. To learn more about the core values of MTR that Robin has significantly influenced, visit this MTR page

Alexandra van Milligen teaching at KIPP Collegiate High School

Classic Literature in a Contemporary Classroom

Author: Alexandra van Milligen | MTR Class of 2015

“Find the juiciest part of the story, and use that to market it to the kids.”

This was the advice given to me by my instructional coach when I found out I was teaching The Scarlet Letter, a book I hadn’t read since I was high school. My kids aren’t going to like this, I thought. A bunch of extremely conservative white people living in 17th century Boston? Like many of the books on my curriculum, this is going to be a hard sell.

How can we engage our students in literature that, to them, seems out-dated and culturally irrelevant? In a world where “fun” and “passive entertainment” are synonymous, how can a novel about a Puritan seamstress compete with The Hunger Games?

Through conversations with my coach, I realized we need to convince our students that The Scarlet Letter isn’t only about a Puritan seamstress—it’s also about shame, lust, loyalty, and revenge. If you want students to fully engage with a text, it’s important to first engage them in the elements of the texts that transcend cultural and temporal barriers.

Here are some ways I do that in my classroom:

Part I – Visualizing Complex Concepts

  1. When introducing a new novel, identify between one and four timeless central ideas. If, for example, I’m teaching The Great Gatsby, I’ll focus on success, identity, heroism and the American Dream. These concepts should be at least a little ambiguous to leave plenty of room for students to bring in prior experiences from other books, history, current events, and their own lives.
  2. Formulate an essential question for each concept. For example, I might ask, “How can you tell that someone is successful?” or “Can anyone be successful?”
  3. Give each student a manilla folder and a marker. Have students write a central idea in the center of each page so they are left with room above and below the term.
  4. Once the folders are set up, give students three silent minutes to use the space below the term define the first idea (“success”) using only pictures. Students should use only the marker given to them.
  5. Have students pass their folders one person to the left (or right, or ahead, or behind). Say, “When you have a new folder in front of you, I want you to silently, interpret the picture and compose a single sentence in which you define the term in the center of the page. On this page, your sentence should start with ‘Success is….’”
  6. Take five minutes to discuss the central idea in a large group setting. Have students compare the picture they interpreted to the one they drew.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 without passing folders back to the original owners. By the end of the exercise, every folder should have four students’ thoughts represented.
  8. At the end of the exercise, explicitly connect the activity to the novel.

Part II – Identifying Foundational Beliefs

  1. Use essential questions generated in Part I (step 2) to create a graphic organizer in which students can a) articulate beliefs, and b) justify with evidence.
  2. Give students clear instructions on what “evidence” is. Many students will be tempted to simply rephrase the question (e.g. “Anyone can be successful in America, because anyone can get what they want in life.”). I use the acronym “CHORES” to help my students think of evidence.

C – Current Events (e.g. “Last week in the news…”)

H – History (e.g. “In 1920…”)

O – Own Experience (e.g. “My mom always says…”)

R – Reading/Literature (e.g. “In Lord of the Flies…”)

E – Entertainment (e.g. “In the movie The Hunger Games…”)

S – Science/Statistics (e.g. “95% of doctors tell us…”)

  1. Use a think-pair-share format to give students time to generate and justify their own opinions before moving into a large group discussion.
  2. At the end of the unit, have students answer questions again–this time from the author’s perspective. At KIPP we call these themes “lasting understandings.” I like to have my kids make posters with a novel’s lasting understandings to put up around the room. It reminds them of the power of literature to change our perspectives.

These activities gives students a forum in which they can visually and linguistically process the big ideas presented in a canonical work. Much like a gallery walk, it allows students to have a silent discussion with their classmates. It also forces students to form independent thoughts before being swayed by the ideas of the group.

One of my favorite teaching moments took place this semester as a student finished the second chapter of The Scarlet Letter. He closed his book, shook his head, and said, “When you think about it, they really just like us.”

Visit MemphisTR.org to learn more about the residency model for teacher training.

Caitlyn Kennedy training with the Memphis Teacher Residency.

Making the Most of Make-Up Work Days

Author: Jessica Johnson | MTR Instructional Coach

Many teachers have periodic or ad hoc days devoted to students’ making up work that they didn’t complete on schedule or revising work that didn’t exhibit mastery. These days are designed to foster student learning and improve students’ grades. But sometimes they end up being unproductive, or students’ modest gains from the day may not be commensurate with the considerable time the teacher spends in advance planning.

Melrose High tenth grade English teacher and Memphis Teacher Residency 2015 graduate Caitlyn Kennedy has developed a system for make-up days that sets students up for success in improving their understanding and their grades–and that entails a manageable amount of planning on the teacher’s part. (You may remember Caitlyn from the blog post about seating charts. She has a knack for systems!) Here are specific, transferrable strategies from Caitlyn’s classroom that you can use in your classroom.


Use Customized To Do Lists so that each student knows exactly what to do.


  • Include the student’s current grade to add motivation, especially for students on the cusp of earning a higher grade or with grades they’re not happy with.
  • Caitlyn generates these through PowerSchool’s “Missed Work Assignment” report. For an assignment to show up on this list, it has to be entered as Missing, rather than have an empty cell. She adds a header to this report and types in “Current Grade: ____” and then handwrites the grade on each student’s report. Caitlyn’s students and their parents can access this information directly through PowerSchool, but handing each student a slip of paper with the missed work report on the make-up work day is essential for removing obstacles to every student getting right to work.



Display and label assignments that need to be done, and have plenty of copies of each assignment on hand.


  • Caitlyn posts each assignment that needs to be done on a whiteboard at the front of the room, with a label that correlates with the assignment name on students’ missed work reports.


  • Caitlyn also provides copies of each assignment on a back table that students can easily access.  To know how many copies of each assignment are needed, Caitlyn uses the PowerSchool “Missing Work by Assignment” report.



  • For students who are absent or in in-school suspension, Caitlyn staples together each student’s customized to-do list and every assignment the student needs to complete. She then delivers the packets to ISS for suspended students and hangs onto the packets for absent students when they return.


Provide clear expectations for what students do during the make-up day.


  • Caitlyn posts a checklist on the screen to guide students’ work. She includes the step of checking your folder for work that is partially completed or fully completed but not submitted–she has identified this common pitfall and is addressing it. Caitlyn went over this list orally too.


  • Caitlyn orally reminds her students to be sure their name is on their work so that they get credit for it–work submitted with no name is another common pitfall she wants her students to avoid. You could add this reminder to the checklist slide too.



Motivate students and show them that hard work pays off.


  • Caitlyn narrates for students how damaging missing work is to a student’s grade, and explains, “Your grade is lower than you want because you are missing work, not because you are doing poor work.”


  • Some teachers also pull up an anonymous student in the grade book with missing work and let the class watch the student’s grade rise as the teacher fills in grades for missing work that is submitted.


Have a strict deadline and clear procedures for submitting missing work to foster a purposeful and urgent tone.


  • Caitlyn’s students submit missing work in a special bin over a three-day period that begins with the make-up day. She then grades it ASAP and enters the grades so that students immediately see how their hard work has paid off, and so that make-up work doesn’t distract students from the current work.


Provide extension opportunities for students without missing work.


  • For Caitlyn’s students, that’s reading interesting nonfiction articles.


Are you wondering how Caitlyn thinks of everything in advance?! She chalks it up to  “emergency preparedness from living in Florida” (Go Gators!) and to the frequent reminder from her mom who is a Kindergarten teacher, “You have to be ready.” Whatever the source of Caitlyn’s uncanny preparedness, we hope it will be a help to you in preparing for make-up days in your own classroom.

Interested in learning other principles Caitlyn is trained in through the Memphis Teacher Residency? Check out details about the Masters in Urban Education here.


MTR Talk: Building Community Through Physical Space

Brooke DeBoard is an MTR graduate from the Class of 2015. She taught her residency year at Cherokee Elementary School and is now a Kindergarten teacher at Cornerstone Prep School, Denver campus in the Frayser community. She was a recent guest speaker at MTR Talk and shared how she builds community through physical space in her classroom. Included here is the transcript of her presentation at the MTR Talk

Author: Brooke DeBoard | MTR Class of 2015 | Cornerstone Prep – Denver

I learned a lot during my residency year. One thing that I learned early on from my mentor was the importance of keeping the classroom bright, colorful, and neat. I saw, first hand, the impact that had on the students’ learning. They came into a warm and welcoming classroom which promoted happiness instead of a stale, dark room that was disorderly and gave a feeling of chaos and carelessness. Something else I noticed during my residency year was how students interacted with each other at the age of 8. The students were not always kind to each other and I got the feeling that they were competing with each other instead of working to support one another. This was one of the most influential factors that I experienced during my year there. I wanted to be a part of training my students how to respond and treat people with kindness and love. Genuinely caring for one another. I knew that in my classroom I wanted to foster a caring, joyful and productive community. I wanted to teach them skills that would help them beyond the classroom, into their careers and life.

With these things in mind, and a year of residency under my belt, I began my first year teaching kindergarten. At Cornerstone, kindergarten is a co-teaching grade. I am very fortunate to have someone to work, plan, and teach with. We started out the school year with 36 students! As you can imagine, having 36 kids with 2 adults in one room can be kind of crowded and chaotic. As we planned for the first day of school, we knew that the physical space could either hurt us or help us. We wanted to foster a strong community within our classroom while at the same time being efficient and functional, so we knew that we had to be strategic when planning and organizing our room. I’m sure my co-teacher and I looked crazy during Professional Development at the beginning of the year before the kids arrived, sitting in the small chairs at the small tables and transitioning from the seats to the cubbies and from the seats to the carpet ourselves, trying to determine the best way to teach our students to transition. We wanted to make sure that all of the things that our students would be asked to do during the day could be efficient and orderly.

Regardless of the numbers, physical space can foster and create a community of learners. When you walk into our classroom you will notice bright colors. The tables are colored with bright, red, green, blue, and yellow tops. There is a bright rug at the front of the room which is where we do comprehension in the mornings. There is green tape on the floor which is the path the students take to put their backpacks in their cubbies as well as to their seats. This keeps kids from roaming around the room and running into each other. It also allows us to have order in the room despite so many bodies.

The students sit at tables, in groups of four. This allows for them to learn together and develop social skills. This also allows for them to interact with each other which is monitored by myself and my co-teacher. When we hear something that is unkind we immediately stop and ask them, “What’s a better way to handle that?” The students will correct their sentence and then ask for forgiveness. The other student forgives and they hug. We love having tables instead of desks because it promotes a more collective culture rather than an individualistic one.

As much as we love having tables in our room rather than desks, we had to be strategic about the student’s resources at their seats. On their chairs they have chairbags which contain: whiteboard, eraser, marker, crayons, scissors, and glue.

In front of them (at the top of their tables) they have their name tag and to their left is their pencil basket for their pencil and eraser. We knew that since it is a shared space it could have led to arguing over whose pencil someone had so we had structures in place to avoid this situation.

In the front of our classroom is a rug that has rectangles on it which provides each student their own spot to sit. This is significant to develop a sense of community while at the same time being intentional with the space. Everyone is on the carpet, but each person has their own spot.

On one wall we have a huge word wall which has the alphabet on it. Underneath the letters are the sight words that the students are learning and also our students’ names. During independent work time the students practice writing sentences with their friends’ names. We also have the word “COMPLIMENTS” spelled out and each time our classroom receives a compliment from someone in the hallway we mark off our letters and each time we spell it out we have a little party. Before the students are allowed to eat at the party we ask them, “Who earned this?” they reply, “We did.” Then we thank them for making good choices.

We have a quality work board in the back of the room with student work. This is used to promote hard work and pride in CBU K. The students see work of their friends that we are proud of. The work that we recognize isn’t always a “3”, the highest grade students can earn, but it is work in which a student did his or her best. This encourages and motivates other students to try their best because they want their work recognized. It also encourages those students who are on the board to continue to give it their best because they love the feeling of the class being proud of their work.

Our school itself is beautiful. The walls are freshly painted and bright which sets the expectation of excellence and caring for our environment. The students are greeted by an adult outside upon arrival and then greeted by their teachers in their classroom. The school has a commons area in which our students meet with everyone in their grade for a morning meeting once a week. During this time all of kindergarten gathers and is led by one of the other faculty members while we have meetings. This allows for the students to bond and grow not only with our class, but also with the entire kindergarten section. In the cafeteria the tables are set up so that they can face one another while they eat so that they are able to continue to build community and friendships. Utilizing space to promote community is something that is valued school wide.

Our goal is to provide the class with student ownership. When the students start the beginning of the year they walk into a room that belongs to the teachers. They are taught all of our expectations and procedures. However, as the year goes on we let go of the ownership which allows them to have student investment. We taught them the CBU chant at the beginning of the year and then started having students lead it. Now our students and my co-teacher and I all share a sense of ownership and responsibility for our room.

All of these factors foster academic success, as well as, develop a classroom community in which they learn how to care for one another. We recognize the value of being intentional with space and a quality environment to build a strong community.

MTR Applications are open until March 13 to join the Class of 2017. Contact Alison Martin if you have questions (alison@memphistr.org). MTR Camp Applications are open until April 1 for a summer 2016 internship. Contact Candace Obadina (candace@memphistr.org) with questions about applying to MTR Camp or visit the website.

Community Partnerships

A Lesson on Quality Education from Hutchison Rogers Scholars

Hutchison’s Rogers Scholars Field Trip to MTR

Author: Lauren Livesay | Rogers Scholars Co-Vice President

On Friday, October 30th, Hutchison School’s Rogers Scholars traveled to the Memphis Teacher Residency and visited 3rd grade classes of MTR teachers at Kingsbury Elementary. Rogers Scholars is an academically oriented organization that exposes Hutchison students to current events and issues in Memphis through discussions, speakers, and field trips. Through this trip to MTR, we learned about one of the most important issues facing our city today: education inequality. Since education is central to empowering individuals and crucial for a city to thrive, we learned about the many ways in which MTR is effectively combatting the problems surrounding urban education.
Through mentorship, a Master’s degree in education, an intensive internship, and the support of a Christ-centered community, MTR fosters the development of dedicated teachers who can give children from low-income neighborhoods the high-quality education that all children deserve. By providing rigorous training to teachers and emphasizing the importance of relationships between teachers and their students, MTR is effectively improving the futures of children in several target neighborhoods. One very important aspect of MTR is the organization’s ability to work alongside their communities. Many of the teachers live in the communities in which they teach, allowing them to further connect with the students and their families. Also, MTR partners with organizations that develop children’s lives outside of school, emphasizing the importance of an individual’s holistic development.


While at MTR, we had the opportunity to attend an MTR Talk and hear from several leaders within the MTR community. Mrs. Erin Myers shared her story and truly captured our hearts as she described her experience working with MTR after she accepted God’s call to teach. We found her talk to be very interesting because students today often don’t hear about the rewarding aspects of being a teacher, particularly in inner-city Memphis. As she spoke, her commitment to her community was evident, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Before this field trip, many of us were unaware that we could pursue our passions (such as political science or biology) in college before applying for MTR and getting our Master’s in education. Myer’s talk was informative, but it was also very moving because it was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. We’re grateful to have been able to hear her personal testimony as an MTR teacher.

After the MTR Talk, we went to Kingsbury Elementary to help with a math activity. The third graders were very excited to impress us with their new multiplication skills. We were amazed at how well-behaved the students were and how excited they became when talking about school. Their little faces just lit up whenever they correctly described an array or the commutative property. After witnessing their enthusiasm for learning, we had a much deeper understanding of the impact of MTR teachers. A positive, patient, and encouraging teacher makes all of the difference for these children, especially for those who do not receive the support they need at home.

Our time at MTR definitely sparked interesting discussions when we returned to Hutchison. We couldn’t wait to discuss the long-term effects of MTR’s work. From this topic, we then began discussing the importance of preschool education, considering the effects of a teacher’s Master’s degree in education, contemplating the importance of mentorship, and exploring the need for a well-rounded/holistic approach to learning. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at MTR and Kingsbury Elementary, and we look forward to using the knowledge we gained from this trip to influence our future Rogers discussions as well as our future plans as we leave for college.

Join us for the next MTR Talk on Friday, January 29. RSVP by Tuesday, January 26 to Jessica at jessica@memphistr.org. If you would like more information about a field trip with MTR, contact Alison at alison@memphistr.org.

Downline Summit

Downline Summit: Register Today!

Have you registered for the Downline Summit yet?!

Downline Summit

The 2016 Downline Summit will be here before you know it! Register today and invite your friends and family to come with you! As a part of MTR, we are giving you an access key for $20 off your 2016 Summit ticket! Just follow this link or go to the 2016 Summit website and use the access key: MTR

The Summit speaking team consists of passionate, experienced and faithful Christ followers, such as Dr. K.P. Yohannan, Jen Wilkin, Robby Gallaty and Dr. Robert Coleman. We have no doubt you will leave the 2016 Downline Summit encouraged, inspired and refreshed to stay the course and continue investing your life into others for the sake of Christ.

Please make plans to join us on February 5 and 6 at Hope Church in Memphis, TN, and invite others to come with you! This is a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness and clarify the vision of your brothers and sisters to live a life that will echo in eternity through biblical discipleship.


Downline Ministries Church Leadership Lunch

Are you a pastor or church leader?

As an early preview of the amazing Summit weekend ahead, join us for the Church Leadership luncheon. As a pastor or church leader, you will have the opportunity to hear from main stage Summit speakers, including Dr. Kennon Vaughan, Dr. K.P. Yohannan, Robby Gallaty and led by Bobby Harrington of Discipleship.org. The panel will discuss how to make discipleship a core principle in churches, including why discipleship is lacking today, how leaders can turn it around and what practically matters most. The Church Leadership lunch costs $10 and will be at Hope Church 8500 Walnut Grove Rd, Memphis, TN 38018 on February 5 from noon to 1:30 p.m. To register, click here.

Wait there’s more – Come to the Choose 901 Summit After Party!

There will be live music, dancing, food and plenty of opportunities to rehash everything you just learned at the Summit! With various food vendors and local businesses from all around the city, this will be a great way to get a little taste of Memphis! Best of all, it’s free with a Summit ticket! The After Party will be held on February 6 at 7:30 p.m. at 409 S. Main St. Memphis, TN 38103. Remember to RSVP when you purchase your Summit ticket.

View More: http://gretchenshawphotography.pass.us/mtrresidentsclassof2016

The Task at Hand

How quickly the magic of Christmas fades in the cold of January, especially with the stress of a new semester in the classroom. MTR President, David Montague, shared these words with MTR teachers on the first day back to school this month. They are just as applicable and relevant a couple weeks into the semester. Every morning is another moment to remember “the task at hand.”

Andrew Wong, MTR Resident, teaching at Cherokee Elementary. Andrew Wong, MTR Resident, teaching at Cherokee Elementary.

Author: David Montague | MTR President

And so today is the day to get back at the task at hand… to live in such a way as to display to the world the love and character of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Or, said another way, to teach.

Yet it is not simply the rest of the break that equips us to return, but it is the truth of the break.

Over the holidays I researched and read several of the Christmas Mass sermons preached by Popes over the past century.  For the Christmas dinner my family hosted for our extended family, I placed selections from a variety of these sermons under each place mat to be read during the meal.

I’ve copied below several of these readings. As I’m sure we can all use a reminder to the big “Why” question that we often ask, especially at the return from Christmas break, I present to you selections 13-17 (Pope Francis, 2013) from the Montague Christmas Dinner…

  • On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).
  • The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.
  • The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’s birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks.
  • Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake.
  • You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made  yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

As I think about why I come back to work today, these readings center me. My takeaways:

  •  Jesus Christ is the grace of God who provides for me that which I most need and could never obtain: forgiveness, salvation and peace with God.  Therefore, I know to be grateful in all things and fully His.
  • He is the meaning and purpose of life.  Therefore, I am not.  Life revolves around Him, not me.
  • He has demonstrated a particular care for and desire to dignify the “shepherds”… the outcast, the manual laborers, the night-shift workers.  Therefore, so will I.
  • His grace and love silences me.  Therefore, it quiets my talk and concern about myself with talk and concern about Him and His goodness.
  • Christmas has set for me a Way… to become smaller and more vulnerable for the sake of bringing life and blessing to others.  Therefore, I now return from a break with an understanding and a picture – a Story – to live.  To understand and to willingly become more weak, small, vulnerable, and uncomfortable for the sake of others as a means of obedience to and proclamation of His love.

Consider joining in the work of urban education. Apply now for the MTR Class of 2017!

View More: http://gretchenshawphotography.pass.us/mtrresidents2014

Mentor Gratitude

In a spirit of gratitude, MTR Instructional Coach, Brittany Ordu, collected a list of adjectives that MTR Class of 2016 residents use to describe their mentors. MTR mentors are outstanding educators who open their doors and practice to model, train and support MTR residents through their first year in the program. Residents and the MTR staff are beyond grateful for the phenomenal mentors across the city.

Mentors, thank you for your hard work and vulnerability in the process of allowing a resident to teach and learn within your classroom. You are invaluable.

Strong I chose this word because when I think of you, I think of strength. Whenever I am feeling down you are right there to support me and remind me that I can. During hard times, I watched you deal with that with strength, love, and grace. I am so honored to be called your resident.
Devoted When looked up synonyms for “motherly” I saw “devoted” there, which more specifically explains my point. Why? You are devoted to the students of our school far beyond your own class this year. You have former students, their relatives, and students you don’t even know who visit you quite often because you have taken them under your wing much like a mother would.
Dynamic You have an unprecedented presence in the classroom that demands respect. You are quick to solve problems and have an uncanny ability to remain steadfast and smooth in tough situations.
Sizzling You are on fire everyday. You give everything you have to your students every single day.
Regenerative You are constantly and consistently pouring into and propelling others to be better and supporting them when they miss the mark. You are continually working to push scholars toward greatness and are helping to transform me into a great teacher. This is the epitome of a regenerative spirit.
Fluid You are adaptable and very understanding. You are constantly making procedures better through adjustments and working with me so I can have a stake in what we are doing.
BUENO! You use this adjective colloquially all the time. Though you are far too humble to ever describe yourself as such, your mentorship is BUENO! You are always ready to listen and help me process. You model strategies, mindsets, and attitudes well, and you challenge me to do more and be better yet simultaneously remind me to remain in a mindset of faithfulness in serving the only One who matters.
Trailblazer I choose this word because you are always willing to be flexible and elastic. You plan ahead to help better suit my needs and expectations in MTR, and you are always ahead of the game. You are more like an innovative leader setting the pace for everyone else (including myself)!
Flowy Whenever something crazy happens or there is a big change to our schedule or classroom set-up, you go with the FLOW, don’t get upset, and do what you have to do in order to make sure our students are learning. You’ve been a great example to me and I’m so grateful to be in your classroom.
Strategic  You are one of the most resourceful, thoughtful, wise problem-solvers I know. This results in meaningful instruction, great classroom culture, supported and encouraged students and co-workers, and so much more.
Ambitious You do not settle for less than meets expectations as you lead students to be successful. You creatively engage students to build math fluency, stay focused and “see” math.
Gracious Not only are you gracious and kind with me when I make mistakes, but you have a warm, loving attitude with your students and others that makes them want to be and stay around you.
Courageous As you go through one of the most unstable years of your teaching career (because of changes in classes, curriculum, teachers, expectations, students, and having a resident) you take on every new challenge head on and encourage me to stay calm and do what’s best for our students even when you have little control over what happens.
Patient I choose patient to describe you because despite my mistakes and flaws you continue to work with me and encourage me. I know I have a lot of growing to do but I’m just glad you haven’t given up on me.
Dedicated You are always willing to stay late and work harder than anyone I know to make sure that you are being the best teacher you can be.
Altruistic Since the very first day I met you, you have opened your classroom up to me in a way that has felt loving, supportive, and I feel like I have learned so much from you. I chose altruistic as an adjective to describe you because you are always working so selflessly for the betterment of your students, to help other teachers at your school, to help out residents at MTR, and to patiently mentor me in such an inspiring way!
Incredible Since being a part of your classroom, I have been fortunate enough to observe how incredible you are. You have not only been incredible as a teacher, but as a mentor and a member of the staff at your school. You have been so encouraging to me as I am still learning how to effectively lesson plan and then teach my students. You have also been so incredibly kind to me and patient with me throughout this learning process. You are always an encouragement to the staff at your school with her weekly cupcake delivery and willingness to help wherever you are needed. I am so grateful for you everyday and cannot imagine having a better mentor!
Fierce You approach every challenge with confidence that dominates any tinge of doubt. You eat challenges for breakfast and impossibilities for dinner.
Joyful You come to work every day with a positive attitude; I hardly ever hear you complaining.  When the students ask you, “How are you?” during our greeting, you always reply, “I’m wonderful–I’m so happy to see you,” and your genuine smile shows them that you really mean it.
FIERCE You love people relentlessly, teach passionately, serve the school community intensely (seriously, I’m not sure how our school would operate without you)- you are just altogether awesome. You are a powerhouse at warm-strict and generally give Sasha Fierce a run for her money. #QueenBey (The compliment of compliments.)

I am just so unboundedly thankful that you are my mentor.

Joyful Your personality and presence in the classroom are infectious to not only me but to all of our students. The culture you create in our classroom is filled with joy and happiness!
Faithful You are faithful to your job to serve students and your coworkers. You are reliable, trusted, and a loyal worker.
Dedicated You are always willing to step up and do what must be done, regardless of whether or not it’s your ‘responsibility’. You have continually set an example of what it looks like to be a teacher who always tries to do what’s best for your students.
The Baddest


What can you give to the teacher who’s already got everything? To a teacher with a Simpsons reference for every occasion, and Taco Bell for every mood? To a teacher with enough je ne sais quoi to sport a faux hawk and read Isaac Asimov? To a teacher who drives stick shift, and rolls down their windows by hand? You can give that teacher a vanilla coke. He/she like that a lot.
Motivating You keep the students motivated to do well, act right, and be attentive, and you motivate me to be a better teacher everyday!


You give so much of your time and effort to making things happen (what a catalyst does) here at our school- both in the classroom and for the athletics.
Perceptive You are very perceptive of the needs of all students.  You are diligent and thoughtful in all you do, and remain gracefully steady regardless of the potential chaos a school day may bring!
Brave You confidently step in to situations with a deep sense of purpose; you are so faithful to serving the students.
Insightful I chose this adjective to describe you because you are so brilliant, yet you always want to learn so you can better your craft. Being your resident is great because I know that I can learn so much from you.
Devoted You are one of the hardest working people I know; however, you don’t work hard just to work hard. It is because of your genuine love and concern for our students that you work all hours of the night and morning preparing unique lessons that will benefit them best.
Rock Star You are a rock star in and out of the classroom. You are dedicated to making sure that the students are getting what they need and constantly reflecting on your teaching to make you a better teacher for your students. Not only are you rocking it out in the classroom, you are making sure to be the person that your family needs. You are a rock star and you are the real deal. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from such a rock star. I hope I can be a rock star one day!
Eccentric  You are always a person who makes people laugh and make every situation exciting.


That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of you. Your personality alone brings a sense of comfort when times seem unbearable. I can truly say, that your heart is for the students.
Selfless You are always willing to go the extra mile to help anyone in anyway you can. While you are extremely busy yourself, you take the time every morning to pick up students who need a ride and are always immediately willing to go above and beyond with anything I ask or need help/ advice on.
Seasoned You’ve seen it all and remain unfazed and unabashedly yourself. You always have loads of wisdom and approaches to share with students and me, and we’re all better for it!
Flexible Despite the changes that come your way, I appreciate the way you roll with the changes and look for the best way to solve it. I also appreciate the way you always push me to try new things in your classroom. This flexibility helps me grow as a teacher.
Bodacious You are bold, determined, and you push your kids toward success in the classroom. All the kids love and respect you because you keep your class engaging. People can usually hear you teaching three classrooms away! 🙂 Plus you’re the best mentor ever!!
Magnanimous You are one of the kindest humans I have ever worked with. You are patient and gracious and generous, especially in my failures and blunders as a resident. You perpetually encourage and teach everyone at our school. You are what I aspire to be as a teacher.
Lovingly committed  In every aspect of the job, it is clear that you love what you are doing. You love the students, love teaching, and love being at school. Your commitments to your students and to your job are also evident. You completely embody the notion of doing whatever it takes and of having no excuses–for yourself, our students, or for me. I’m so lucky to spend ~44 hours a week with you! And those are a great 44 hours, by the way.
Super While superhero posters and pictures cover the walls, it doesn’t take much time to realize that you are the real superhero in the room. I really appreciate and admire your consistency, your ability to solve problems, and your encouragement. Thanks for being my mentor!
Bright When you walk into a room it is instantly infused with joy and encouragement. You are one of the most genuinely positive people I have ever met and it has been a pleasure working with you. You definitely make me a better person!
Persevering  You are the strongest, most intelligent teacher I know! Whatever is thrown your way, you always find a way to persevere with a smile on her face.
Gentle Gentleness is a disposition described as “even-tempered, tranquil, balanced in spirit, and unpretentious.” You are an exemplary example of this fruit of the spirit in how you conduct your life and in how you treat others.
Efficiency Whether in economy of language, class instructions, or personal endeavors, you are efficient.  I actually think it’s your middle name.  But seriously, you are incredibly proficient in discerning and employing the most efficient method to what you do.  I really hope to continue learning this from you.
Inspirational Having you as my mentor has made me want to be a better teacher every day. Your ability to teach and care for our students while still maintaining so many professional responsibilities, all the while excelling in all areas, is something that I am working to emulate daily.
Dedicated You have given nearly 20 years of your life for the betterment of others.  You’ve spent countless hours committed to your craft to ensure your students grow both academically and as people.
Decorative You go above and beyond creating a classroom environment that embellishes our content by placing useful vocabulary & phrases on the walls for student reference, as well as collecting and hanging flags and ornaments from various Latin American countries. You also have a great sense of fashion, which garnishes the attention of her students who are constantly commenting on your style and admiring you for it. Your attitude is fun, festive, and has a bright lexicon. You are a decorative person in all aspects. You have subtly been teaching me that students respect and look up to the effort a teacher makes with their presentation, both in the sense of professional and inspiring attire, as well as the inviting and exciting feel of their classroom.

(Hope you don’t mind me going over two sentences, but my mentor deserves more.)

Sassy, but classy, spirit-filled, tell it like it is (straightforward) There are countless reasons why I so appreciate and love you, but at the top of that list are the following things: your love for Christ, your love of life, and your ability to tell me straight up like it is. Whether it’s you telling me that I need to be more of a bulldog in the classroom, or you telling me to fix my attitude about something, or you directing me back to the Word, I never have to doubt where I stand with you or my progression as a resident. You will definitely let me know! Straight up! Every time! Even if it hurts my feelings. You don’t care. And for that, I am so grateful. Seriously could not have been blessed with a better, more equipped mentor who puts their all into training me to fulfill my God-given purpose of teaching
Gentle & generous You are gentle and generous because you always kindly and lovingly give me feedback and teaching pro-tips.


You never settle for ‘okay’ and always strive to make things better for the students and for the team! Thanks for thinking of new and different ways to make our school, grade, and math class a better place to be!
Conscientiously-passionate I chose the hyphenated words conscientious and passion to describe you because principles without drive or concern are lifeless, while passion without framework and moral code also falls short because it lacks guidance. With an insatiable desire for the reign of justice and truth, you approach the world at large as well as the miniature world in your classroom with a contagious passion for empathy through the medium of literature, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from you.
Accommodating I just started in your room. You have your routines and schedule, yet you are willing to open up your classroom to me 10 weeks into the school year.
Boisterous I chose this word because it describes both your volume while speaking as well as your passion while addressing injustice. You love people and your family well. It’s been an honor to learn from you.
Competent, trusting, and insightful leader You are always there to help and support me in becoming a better teacher. And, on top of all of that, we have a lot of fun together. You are pretty great. #ShoutOutToGodWithAVoiceOfTriumph


With everything from your warm hugs to telling students that they may “send you into a flashback”, students and teachers can’t get enough of you. You have the perfect combination of warm-strict affection that not one soul can resist.
Commander of Respect You also command the respect of students, teachers, and administrators alike. And when I say “command respect,” I mean that you get respect from absolutely everyone, and you deserve every last bit of that respect.
Compassionate Not only are you compassionate to your students, but to me as well. You take time to check in with me as both a resident and as a stressed out grad student who is new to the adult world. I’m so thankful for your time and effort in training me to be an excellent social studies teacher!
Confident  You show confidence in yourself, me, as your resident, your students, and each person you come in contact with. I am so thankful that you have a genuine desire for me to succeed and do everything in your power to make that happen.
Cool under pressure You have a knack for being able to enter any situation, and come out as in control as ever. Your consistency and calm demeanor, coupled with the affection you show your students are an incredible example to me!
Bold You are a force to be reckoned with. Students possess a deep reverence for you. You boldly teach and create an environment where authentic learning is happening. This boldness encourages students to find joy in the work of learning.
Flame-proof Because you are the only teacher I know who can play with fire and never be burned.
Self-assured I chose this adjective because you’re super at ease in front of the students and I really respect the way you carry yourself in meetings.
Authentic No matter what happens you always stay true to who you are and I greatly admire that about you!
Sprightly 90% of the reason why I chose sprightly is because it means lively, spirited, and full of energy. You are all of those. Even in the midst of tiredness and the hard work we do as teachers, you find a reason to smile, giggle, and be cheerful. There is also a running joke/insider on our hall that I think everyone is old and sprightly speaks especially of an old person. This reason makes up the last 10%.


You are always well prepared and prepped for class. Everything has a place, and there is no room to question how or why because everything is so well prepared.
EXTRAodinary You go above and beyond in everything, everyday. You serve and love everybody you encounter so well while also fulfilling your roles as a parent, friend, coach, athletic director, teacher, administrator, mentor and so much more. You teach me more than you’ll ever know and I am beyond thankful that you welcomed me into your classroom this year.
Nurturing You are kind, caring, and nurturing to both the students and to me. You are a genuinely sweet person that cares for others.
Sagacious You have displayed multiple examples of prudence when choosing how to word corrections for the students as well as myself. You’ve got that Warm/Strict and are always ready with advice.
Amiable I chose this word because you have incredible rapport with a diverse cross section of faculty and staff at our school. Your friendliness and warmth affects everything from your classroom to our PLC meetings.

View More: http://gretchenshawphotography.pass.us/mtrresidents2014

To apply as a Resident or a Mentor, visit the MTR website. Applications are open now!

Rosa Parks

Honoring the Memory of Rosa Parks through Urban Education

Author: David Montague | MTR President

Today is the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, AL.  

I thought her actions that displayed a deep sense of character resulting in eventual justice are worth remembering this day.  She may still serve us well today as we are encouraged to persevere in trouble against those things that are wrong and destructive to basic human dignity.

Please read this powerful excerpt from MLK’s Stride Toward Freedom detailing her arrest and explaining her courage.

On this day, December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery, AL.  She was returning home after her regular day’s work in the Montgomery Fair – a leading department store. Tired from long hours on her feet, Mrs. Parks sat down in the first seat behind the section reserved for whites. Not long after she took her seat, the bus operator ordered her… to move back in order to accommodate boarding white passengers.  By this time every seat in the bus was taken.  This meant that if Mrs. Parks followed the driver’s command she would have to stand while a white male passenger, who just boarded the bus, would sit.  

But Mrs. Parks quietly refused.  The result was her arrest.  

Mrs. Parks’ refusal to move back was her intrepid affirmation that she had had enough.  It was an individual expression of a timeless longing for human dignity and freedom.  she was not “planted” there by the NAACP…; she was planted there by her personal sense of dignity and self-respect.  She was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone by and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn. 

In a similar way, each of you are displaying this same intentional courage and conviction for the display of justice and dignity, despite the very hardness your intentionality brings upon you.

That is no small thing.

Your choices to do this work are noble, good and right.  You should be proud of your work and of yourselves.  I am.  And I’m sure Mrs. Parks would be, as well.

You are celebrating her memory in the very best way… by teaching those who were the “generations yet unborn.”

MTR Resident, Justine Brunett at Sherwood Elementary

A Gospel-Centered Response to Urban Education in Memphis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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