In Honor of MLK Day


Author: David Montague | MTR President 

MLK was the leader of the Civil Rights movement.  The defining aspect of the Civil Rights movement was the technique known as non-violent resistance.  MLK had to convince blacks that the only way for them to win rights and equality was by protesting… non-violently.

This, of course, was very hard to do.  So he constantly wrote and spoke about non-violence.  In fact, he came up with five points of non-violence and as cities took up causes (for example the Memphis sanitation worker strike) he, and people from his organization, would go to these cities and teach for weeks on non-violence.

I found his five points of non-violence brilliant, powerful and joyfully rooted in the gospel.

It is to each person’s benefit to have read his five points of non-violence.  It is historically and personally valuable.  Very much worth your time to read it.  Ideally today.  I’ve edited together some of his comments from an essay he wrote entitled An Experiment in Love to condense but keep the essence… and added a few of my takeaways.

An Experiment in Love

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Christian Love… imparts value by loving.  What gives man value is not what is in him; what gives him value is precisely the fact that God loves him.

“The guiding principle of the Civil Rights movement is Christian Love.  The Sermon on the Mount is the initial inspiration of the Negroes of Montgomery for social action.  It was Jesus that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love.”

Christian LOVE is the IDEAL (spirit / motivation); Non-violent resistance is the TECHNIQUE.  Protest with the creative weapon of love.

“Christ furnished the spirit and motivation”… and the method (cross).

Aspects of Non-Violent Christian Love.

1. Love leads to ACTIVE non-violence.

Violence would be both impractical and immoral.  This would only intensify the existence of evil.  Hate begets hate.  Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.

Non-violence is not a method for cowards.  It does resist.  No group must submit to wrong, nor do they need to use violence to right that wrong.  There is the way of non-violent resistance.  This is the way of the strong man.

It is not passive.  While he is not physically aggressive, his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong.  Passive physically but strongly active spiritually.

2. Non-violence does NOT seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent.

…But seeks to win friendship and understanding.

Non-violence means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent.  The end is redemption and reconciliation.  The aftermath of non-violence is the creation of a beloved community.  The aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

3. Non-violence is an attack directed against the forces of evil rather than against the persons who happen to be the doing of the evil.  It is EVIL (Satan) the non-violent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons doing the evil.  The basic tension is not between races… The tension is between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and darkness.  And if there is a victory, it will be a victory for justice and light.  WE are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.

4. Non-violence is willing to accept suffering without retaliation.

“rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood.”

One may ask, “What is the nonviolent resister’s justification for this ordeal for which he invites men, for this mass political application of the doctrine of turning the other cheek?”  The answer is in the realization that unearned suffering is redemptive.  Suffering, the Christian says, has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.  “Things of fundamental importance to people are not secured by reason alone, but have to be purchased with their suffering.”

5. Non-violent resistance avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. 

The resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but also refuses to hate him.

At the center of the movement is Christian love.

Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.

This “love” is not referring to affectionate sentimental love.  It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense.  Christian love is an overflowing love which is unmotivated, groundless and creative.  It is not set in motion by any quality of function of its object.  It is the glory of God operating in the human heart.  Christian love seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor.. It does not discriminate between worthy and unworthy people, or qualities of people possess.  It begins by loving others for their sakes.  LOVE discovers the “neighbor in every man.”  And the best way to determine if you have this love is to love those with nothing to gain in return.

This love springs from the NEED in the other person.

This form of non-violence is also known as GRACE.  And grace has a place in the Civil Rights movement… as well as in MTR, Memphis schools, our city, our nation… Non-violent resistance very much still has a role in our lives today.

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

Colossians 1:20-22


Snappy Casual: A Story of How Memphis Changed My Wardrobe

Author: Sam Moseley | MTR Camp Staff ’14 | Blog Post via “The Secondary Source

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“I like your shirt” she said to me.  “You might not be able to get away with that if you were in the residency program, but for summer camp it’s great”.

I was wearing a short sleeve button up shirt and khaki shorts. The shirt was a few different colors and maybe it didn’t have a “traditional” pattern, but I thought it was appropriate. After all, the dress code on our schedule read “snappy casual”. I figured that meant somewhere in between gym shorts and a t-shirt and khaki pants and a polo. My idea of snappy casual was more than casual but less than business casual. Seems fair right?

This episode happened at the opening dinner for the camp I taught reading at last summer in Memphis. While nobody slapped me on the wrist for my choice of clothing, I found out later that the program I was working for had a different idea of snappy casual than I did. I figured this out through interacting with the program’s teaching residents.

Our camp staff had lunch with the residents one day and I asked a girl, “Do y’all have to dress this way everyday?”

All of the gentlemen were in button down shirts and ties, some of them with jackets. The ladies all wore dresses or professional looking skirts and blouses. She kind of laughed.

“Yeah, they like us to dress snappy casual”.

“Wait… this is snappy casual?” I thought in my mind. What about business casual? Did it just get pushed aside? Is it not a thing anymore? If ties mean snappy casual, what is business professional? At this point, I realized that my idea of standard teaching clothes was different than this organization’s idea that hired me. Throughout my six and a half weeks in Memphis I pondered the standard of snappy casual. Here are my reflections on the dress code:

·      Creating a new norm The organization I was working for is creating a new norm for their residents. They are redefining their teachers’ concepts of an acceptable wardrobe. Consequently, when residents leave the program, wearing ties to work everyday will be second nature, almost like breathing (well… maybe not quite that natural, but close).

·      Setting a personal standard of professionalism This program is personally raising the bar for its residents. Sure, some teachers might wear ties or dresses to work already, but this year there are upwards of 75 new teachers in Memphis schools promoting snappy casual. Memphis is seeing a personal standard of professionalism that considers teaching as something to “dress up” for everyday.

·      Showing students they are worth it One of the messages that snappy casual is sending is that students are worth these teachers’ time. How a people dresses is in part a reflection of the value they place on the context they are in. If businessmen are going to a conference meeting, they dress accordingly because they have predetermined the value of the meeting. Snappy casual is giving value to students and indirectly telling them “You are worth getting up for and putting on this tie. You are important”.

If you knew me before this year, you have probably noticed a change in my wardrobe since last year. I wear more bow ties. I wear slacks to class. Many people ask me why I am dressed up. They ask if I am going to a meeting or if I have been at a school. Sometimes I have been in one or both of these scenarios that day. Other times, I am simply going to class. Junior year Sam would have been content going to class in a backwards cap and a hoody. I don’t think wearing casual clothes to class is wrong; I just have personally assigned a different value to how my classes contribute to my professional development than I did before. Next time you see me in Bailey or Palko, you will know that Memphis is largely responsible for the bow ties I wear.

Next year, by God’s grace, I’ll be teaching English at a local high school. I consider this year as preparation for my vocation. Part of that preparation includes figuring out what I want my wardrobe to look like. I have decided to adopt the theme of snappy casual, because I want to create a new norm for myself. I want to create a personal standard of professionalism that conveys to students they are worth my time.

Read more on “The Second Source” from Texas Christian University Education Majors.

Read more about Sam’s vision for teaching on TCU’s website here. (photo credit)


A Word on Ferguson

 The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have been on the hearts and minds of all of us at MTR. David Montague, MTR President, sent an email addressing the topic to MTR staff and teachers before the Thanksgiving holiday. Because of the importance and relevance of the topic to our work in urban education, we have shared the email below.


Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
 did not regard equality with God
 as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
 taking the form of a slave,
 being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form, he humbled himself
 and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8


In response to last week’s Ferguson Grand Jury verdict, I intend to simply express a few “so that’s” which I think are timely and relevant particularly for the family and community we call MTR.  Such as…

1. So that I might publicly express my recognition of and sorrow for a past and present story of wicked injustices African Americans have endured for centuries in our country.  And by doing so, I hope to show a measure of respect and appreciation for our African American MTR family for their positive responses to these injustices.

2. So that I (as a white Christian leader), and our organization, would NOT ignore or minimize the deep frustrations of mostly African Americans as expressed in the reaction to the Ferguson verdict through a silence that might imply indifference.  And by doing so, I hope to provide some context and understanding (without condoning) for the sometime violent responses to this event.

3. So that I might give some encouragement for how MTR staff and teachers might respond in the most constructive way possible.  And by doing so, I hope to provide a renewed vision for a healthy community as our MTR opportunity today.

So, as concisely as is appropriate…

1. I’m Sorry.

Where do we even begin?

Within the slavery era, in 1787, the Three-Fifths Compromise allocated for purposes of a state’s population that slaves be considered 3/5 of a person.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 specified that “any immigrant, being a free white person,” could apply for citizenship, while it excluded indentured servants, free blacks and slaves, who were regarded as “property” and not “persons.”

One hundred years later Jim Crow Laws began to rule our southern states with legal segregation that reinforced the psychological wounds of slavery, supported our cultural biases and protected majority privileges and positions.

Following Brown v. Board of Education that declared legal segregation in schools unconstitutional (and was largely the death of the Jim Crow era), racism and racial prejudices continued to depress opportunities for African Americans.  Redlining and Covenant Restrictions worked to largely remove African Americans from the wealth building opportunities of property and home ownership.

I recognize this is a very small list of unending injustices suffered by African Americans at the hands of white leadership for hundreds of years in America.  And it is these injustices (and their aftermaths) that have provided a current dynamic that provides today advantages, privileges and momentum for whites and obstacles, frustrations and skepticism for African Americans.

It is a reality of our very broken nation led historically and daily by broken and sinful men and women.

For these injustices, and the many other stories of injustices executed by the white majority in power, I am aware and sorry.

I just wanted you to know that.

2. Ferguson is about this context.

In A Decision in Ferguson: How Should (white) Evangelicals Respond?, Ed Stetzer writes  “For many, this is about an incident. Yet, for many African Americans, it’s about a system.”

The riots and protests following the Ferguson verdict are not simply a reaction to this verdict but a response to the frustration and disadvantages that an unfair system has imposed on an entire race for generations.  And particularly galling, African Americans rarely feel as though whites are aware of, or care about, this history.

And particularly in the context of Ferguson, memories of Emmett Till, Rodney King and Trayvon Martin are refreshed… all stories of black boys or men suffering under the violence of white men who went unpunished, rightly or wrongly.  These stories are the very personal and graphic faces that serve as the personification of the evils mentioned above to African Americans.  And these moments of violence serve to expose the nerves of past injustices.

3. Where do we go from here?

3.a. Recently, I read Martin Luther King’s book Where Do We Go From Here?  At one point, he explains the discussion Civil Rights leaders had over the participation of whites in the movement.  In strong support of white participation and of the Beloved Community, MLK writes, “Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find but something that we must create.  A productive and happy life is not something that you find; it is something that you make.  And so the ability of [African Americans] and whites to work together, to understand each other, will not be found ready made; it must be created by the fact of contact.”

So, where do we go from here?  I think a unique opportunity at MTR is that we have an intentional interracial community with plenty of “contact”.  And, through the power of God and His shared wisdom and desire of a peaceful and diverse Kingdom, we create… we work together for unity as a necessity for the success of our MTR mission and as a display of the gospel of Jesus Christ that unites people to a citizenship and race that transcends our earthly existence. It is a choice and an intentionality that we commit to living within a people set on racial understanding and peace.

But this is not ready made.  It is not natural in this world.

And so this is a tremendous opportunity for us to display the greatness of God that allows us to to express repentance, forgiveness, grace, love and unity to one another within a society and nation that more often than not expresses anger, violence, distrust and disunity among races and cultures.

In other words, there’s more going around here than just a pursuit of equal education.  26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:26-28

There is this opportunity to demonstrate within our ranks a community that lives together and loves one another as one in Christ Jesus, as sisters and brothers…to create this community at MTR and within a nation that more often than not runs from this community.  See above.

3.b.  Instead of being ashamed or negligent with our privileges, we use them for the benefit of others.  

All our privileges, our wealth, status, power, experience, history, cultural or social awarenesses, relationships, reputation… are what they are.  They are ours today by God’s grace.

So, privilege (whether white or black) is NOT to be a negative term but neutral that can be used for good or bad.

We use for good through leveraging our privilege for the sake of others and calling out the misuse of privilege at all costs.

And ultimately, we look to Christ as the model of the use of privilege…

Jesus had incredible privilege… but it was not negative.  He used it for the sake of others.  See Philippians 2:5-8 above.

So may we at MTR.

May our city take note of what God can do among us.


On Careers and Choices and Being Afraid of Both

Author: Daniel Warner | MTR ’14 | East High School

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Coming back after moving somewhere else awards me a new title. I am the old friend. It’s better than “my friend from out of town,” because with it comes a sense of familiarity, the kind of sweetness friendship acquires only after much time has passed.  Yet I am the old friend, and this sets me apart, and it reminds me that I made a decision nearly a year and a half ago now to leave.

With age comes opportunity, and with opportunity comes choice. Opportunity makes choice necessary, for there is little reason to have many opportunities if no decisions are to be made.

It is the quintessence of privilege to have more than one option—“Which college do I like the most? Which job makes me feel the most alive?”—these are the questions privilege can ask, questions about what is best, not what is simply attainable.  We see options as paralyzing and we function out of fear instead of realizing that meaningful choice is a gift experienced by few. A gift with consequences, but a gift nonetheless.

Choice is the weapon we must learn to wield the most wisely, but too often being “wise” with our choices leads us to fear our choices. We are nervous to close the door on other opportunities, but at its root, choice is saying yes to one thing and no to another.

I think it’s easier to receive orders, to take commands from a superior, than to choose for myself. If I am taking orders, then I can see myself as noble for doing the job even if I don’t like it. But if I choose it myself, then I have no nobility to feel and I have no one but myself to blame if it isn’t everything I had hoped. This is the fear at the heart of decision making.

Being back at Belmont yesterday got me thinking about this. All the “I don’t knows” coming from behind a nervous smile when I asked what’s next after school. There is so much paralysis when it comes to decision making, especially when it’s about our future–the perfect place for an idyllic version of myself to do nothing but what is right and good.

The sooner we embrace that our future, like our past, will not be perfect, the sooner we will feel free to decide. And here’s the reality. If you are following Jesus, honestly praying about stuff and seeking out counsel, there is no wrong choice. Our discernment is not perfect, in fact it oftentimes errs on the side of playing it safe. Discernment doesn’t mean doing the easy thing, neither does “being wise.” Christian freedom means you are allowed to try something out, fail, move on, and try something different. So jump in. You can only stare at the ocean for so long before it’s time to jump in. All the way in. That’s what we are meant for.

We’ve somehow made it okay to live a halfhearted Christian life as long as we speak the right way about our decisions that are really based more on maintaining our safety net than on following the call of Jesus.  The call to come and die sounds foolish to anyone who doesn’t know Jesus. The call to come and die will look reckless to anyone who doesn’t believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain (yes, even Christians who don’t believe this yet). The way we give our money should look silly to outsiders, the way we seek out the least of our world should cause uneasiness, the way we don’t get hung up on getting promoted or being noticed should make people think we are a little off.

And that’s what we are. A little off. A little captivated by a vision of a different kingdom, of a different King. So go follow that King, and don’t worry about if you’re climbing a corporate ladder or if you are making the perfect decision. You’re making a decision, and that’s the first step to going down any path at all, maybe even a path that God has called you to. The pressure’s off, just jump in.

To hear more from Daniel, check out his full blog, “Written Thoughts, Once a Week for a Year”.

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Community Partner Highlight: Streets Ministries

Interview with Kelechi Ordu | Site Director, Streets Ministries – Graham Heights

Streets Ministries-Graham Heights is a Christian youth development organization located on the same block as Kingsbury Elementary, Middle, High Schools

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Kingsbury Schools, MTR, & Streets: Neighbors and Partners

Streets Ministries is an extension of the space available to Kingsbury teachers and students. During the school day, teachers can bring their students to our computer labs. Teachers also use our space for student incentives during the school day and after school. The eighth graders were just here for a mini field day, with competitions between homerooms. The schools have had dance parties here to raise money for sports teams. We partner with our schools for homecoming: We encourage kids to go to the game to support the team and we’ll have a party – a “fifth quarter” – at Streets afterwards. The high school does a college fair here every year. The middle school and Streets partner to do seminars for the students. The teachers ask Streets staff to design curriculum and teach classes to address areas where middle school students need to grow, topics like self-esteem and hygiene.

Building Relationships with Teachers & Supporting Kids Together

Monday nights we open up the gym for teachers to play basketball. It makes my job and my life a lot sweeter being able to build deeper relationships with the teachers. When stuff happens with kids, teachers and Streets staff get to exchange information and help each other out. We had a girl with Asperger’s, and I don’t think her teachers knew about it. Because her mom had told us at Streets about her condition, we were able to relay that information to the teachers. The teachers now understand, so they can provide grace for this child and support her well. Teachers have done the same thing for us: When situations happen at school or at home, teachers will reach out to us at Streets and ask us to talk with students, to connect with them. We can relate better with our students through relationships with Kingsbury teachers.

It’s been a blessing for us at Streets to be able to provide teachers a doorway to meet kids outside of the classroom and for us to have teachers here to love on this community the way they do.

Excerpt from MTR Yearbook: Community Matters

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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.


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


“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]


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.


Dear First Year Teacher, There is Hope

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


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.”


Professional Community at MTR

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

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

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


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

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


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

 Collaboration within Schools and Neighborhoods

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

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

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

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

Collaboration within Content Areas

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

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

Forums and Platforms to Support Professional Community

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


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