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Is There a Place for Redemptive Conversations with Students in Public Education?

Author: Deonte Singfield | MTR Graduate 2013

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Teaching and coaching in an underprivileged community can be tough and discouraging.

I can remember driving home many nights after a long day of teaching thinking to myself, “There is no way I can go back to school tomorrow.” I have had the opportunity to teach and coach middle school students over the last four years of my life in Memphis. One story that sticks out as a crucial moment in my life as a person and my development as a teacher happened during my first year of teaching. I was working to figure out who I was; as a first year teacher, as a young professional and as a colleague who needed to collaborate with teaching peers in a new building. This would often feel overwhelming and at times a little unbearable. There was a time a student came into class very upset and refusing to work. After several redirections and using different techniques to motivate the student to work didn’t work, I told the student to get her work out because we don’t have time to waste in class. She proceeded to yell at me and used profanity to show me how upset she was about the situation. I very calmly asked her to leave class and that I was choosing not to engage her in that moment. The guidance counselor took her downstairs. She returned at the end of class and was apologetic and shared that she was wrestling with a ton of personal trauma and home-life difficulties. In that moment I asked her if she ever felt like I yelled at her or got mad at her. She said, “No, coach I’m sorry. I feel bad because you always stay so calm but I be goin’ off and treating you so bad”. I told her I choose to not engage her because I know deep down in her heart she doesn’t want to treat me that way and that I see so much potential in her. She would later become one of my best students and would address me as a role model and a father figure in her life. I learned two lessons that day; first to always treat people with dignity regardless of the circumstance and second that sometime we must treat people as they could become and not as they may seem so they have the ability to believe in themselves.

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It’s often said that teachers should “remember they teach students and not just content”. This viewpoint is often supported with the perspective about care and relationship building with students as a major aspect of ones’ teaching philosophy. It is said “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A huge portion of teaching, as a Christian educator, is the philosophy and principle of engaging students in meaningful and redemptive conversations. Whether due to outside influence or a student’s own beliefs, teachers must often pull students onward after difficult events. When faced with difficult times we all have different ways to deal or cope with our situations; emotionally, socially, physically, spiritually, mentally. Having a framework for engaging in redemptive conversations is pivotal for student’s success. Redemption, the act of saving someone from evil or error, is a term most often used in a religious context. I would argue it is the job of every educator, Christian or not, to “show students the way”. Redemptive conversations often help students to be more reflective and intentional with their purpose in school. They motivate students to be more confident and have a deeper understanding of their mission in life. More importantly, these conversations help center the culture and expectation of the classroom to be not only focused on producing better content driven students but ultimately better people.

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In conclusion, redemptive conversations are essential to education for both teachers and students. They motivate us all to be focused on the well-being and success of others. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ““Treat a person as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a person as if he were what he could be, and he will become what he should become.” I urge us all to lead lives of service and to focus our efforts toward the redemptive narratives we all strive towards.

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A Thank You to Dr. Tom Rosebrough

Author: David Montague | MTR Executive Director

Dr. Tom Rosebrough, Dean of the Education Department at Union University, announced his pending transition from the role of Dean to professor in the Fall of 2017.

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We are particularly grateful for Dr. Rosebrough’s generous support of MTR and for his trust in our purpose and people. In a climate where many institutions of higher education have little appetite for partnership with education reform platforms, Dr. Rosebrough was eager to participate. We were impressed that his intention was to find ways for the Church to serve those in need, not simply for the perspective of the program he led so well.

Without his buy-in, MTR might not have been birthed. And certainly would look very different than we do today.

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We are very grateful for his leadership and wish him the very best.

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Education: The Voice for the Oppressed

Author: Matt Cowan | MTR Class of  2014

Education is the breath of the civil rights movement. It allows conversations to come alive, conversations that need to happen to provoke change. As an educator, I try to bring controversial topics to my students, so that they can wrestle with the status quo. As an educator, I want to plan standards-based lessons around topics that my students feel passionately about.

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During the 2015-2016 school year, I planned a lesson around police-community relationships. First, we read the short story, “The Baddest Dog in Harlem” by Walter Dean Myers. I picked this story because Harlem has many similarities with the Orange Mound community, which is the neighborhood where I teach. The plot of the story follows that narrator, his friends, and a suspected shooter in Harlem.   The story captures the intense relationship between the police and the Harlem community. By the end of the text, a young black boy and a dog are accidentally shot by the police officers.

Then we read an article that I found on www.newsela.com that I renamed “Unfair System?” This article discussed the injustices that were uncovered within the Ferguson Police Department.

Students read each text and performed standard based assignments to help facilitate understanding of the deeper themes. One of the assignment was a class discussion about how the people were treated, including possible solutions to the problem facing the community.

My students were able to think critically about the problem and they become solution oriented. I asked my students to see the problem, analyze and discuss the problem, then create a solution to the problem. Through standards-based lessons, my students are taught to fight. They are taught to fight the right way. They are taught to advocate for those around them but most importantly they are taught to advocate for themselves.

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Some people believe that education is the great equalizer for African Americans but I am under a different belief. Education closes the gap by a small margin but white males, with a bachelor degree, are more likely to get a job compared to black males with the same level of education. Education helps but that equality that we long for is still a long way off.

Education is important to the civil rights movement because it gives a voice to the oppressed. It allows those who have been oppressed to speak up and tell their story. We have heard far too many times that history is written by the victor or the oppressor but when we educate the oppressed that changes things. When we educate the oppressed, we empower them to speak for themselves.

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When the system refuses to provide quality education for the oppressed, the system is saying that they do not care about what the oppressed have to say. They are showing the oppressed that they do not want to see change, that they are fine with the status quo. If the system is fine with the status quo, they are telling the oppressed that their lives don’t matter. Far too long my students have been told that they don’t matter by the lack of education they have been given and from what they have seen in the media. But then there are organizations like Black Lives Matters that continue to fight for black people’s rights across the country, the Memphis Teacher Residency that sends teachers into the lowest performing schools to increase the quality of education, and Aspire Public Schools that continue to engage in the conversation of equity and disrupting the school to prison pipe line. These are just a few of the organizations that are working diligently to show the system that black lives matter, the oppressed lives matter.

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As an educator, it is my job to provide my students with a quality education because that’s what they deserve.

It is my job to make sure that I fight against broken- window policies that tell my students that their lives don’t matter.

It is my job to help my students find their voices so that they can tell their story.

We can no longer allow the voice of the oppressed to go unheard. If we do, we are a part of the problem.

Further Reading on Injustice and Education

  • Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: Another Conversation about Race by Beverly Tatum
  • Race Matters-Cornell West
  • Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit
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I Am a 5th Grader Too.

Author: Olivia Besel | MTR Class of 2017

Olivia Besel is an MTR resident and expected to graduate with the Class of 2017. She is teaching 5th grade at KIPP Memphis Academy Middle. We are thankful that Olivia is at MTR and we hope that this blog will serve as an encouragement to you! 

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Spending two weeks in a school made me realize something… I am basically a 5th grader to the Lord.

I have been working with a student who is behind in school by many grade levels. He can’t read, struggles to speak, and in light of it all, he acts out. He walks out of class, he calls out, and he says things out loud that I will never type on this platform. BUT, he is smart. He is so smart. He can make decisions in the blink of an eye, he can react quickly, and when he applies himself, the options for what he can do are limitless. I have found myself working one on one with him several times now. It was a little bit like pulling teeth to get him to work until I realized that football references could really win him over.

I could go on and on, but something I have learned is that the posture of the Lord to us is similar to what I am called to do for this child.

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No matter how I act out, the Lord will forever believe in me and knows what I am capable of. He knows the power of which I was born with, of which I can access, and He knows my worth. And how many times has He gotten on his knees and looked me in the eye and found ways to help me understand. For me it’s not football, though if the Seahawks make it to the Superbowl this year, that will be a huge sign from the Lord. But when I want to stand up and walk out of the “room” that is the presence of the Lord, or when I call out, does He leave? Does He yell back? Does He kick me out? NO! Absolutely not. He kneels down and finds those ways in which I can grasp HIS love. He gives me little tips and tools, cheat sheets, He gives me tangible evidence of His grace and mercy when I just do not understand.

This little boy is powerful. He was born with worth and has the ability to be a leader, a learner and a source of knowledge for all his peers. I am excited to see how he is molded as he grows into believing these things about himself.

I think I have to remember that in many ways I too am a 5th grader in order to love my 5th graders.

He longs to find our “football” references and remind us of why we are loved and encourage us to do the things that make us feel loved.

I am a 5th grader too.

This is what MTR teachers are made of. Interested in joining the Residency? Applications for the next MTR cohort open on September 1st. Apply at memphistr.org and contact a recruiter if you have any questions.
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Jesus Has Already Won

Author: MTR Graduate | Teacher at an MTR Partner School

An MTR teacher shared this email with his team this week. Hopefully all teachers can find encouragement in it. The first week back at school does not always go as planned. It is okay, there is an answer.

View More: http://gretchenshawphotography.pass.us/2015mtrgradsI know how frustrating today was. I left disappointed, frustrated and discouraged that our second day of school
went that way. If your feeling any of that, please know that’s completely normal, and you’re not alone.

I was disappointed because I felt like today really undercut the excitement that we had going on so far this school year. I was frustrated because of the way it was handled, and I was discouraged because I want our school to be something else than it has been. This is a school that has been living the “my butt over your butt” mentality that the world teaches every day. It’s a school that has constantly had turn over and been in the gutters because of politics and depravity in the system. You saw that today, and you’ll see it again sometime this year. But I do want to at least offer some encouragement for us before school starts again tomorrow.
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In Matthew 5, Jesus starts his ministry off giving the Sermon on the Mount and of all things he decides to say the Beatitudes first. Jesus is basically saying, “these are what my people are going to look and act like.” And instead of saying that we are going to dominate the world, he says his people are going to be poor in spirit, mourners, meek, pursuing righteousness, and mercy. And this is what we get to be at my school, even and especially when things get frustrating, because Jesus has already won.
And to me, this is the only encouragement to keep going when things get frustrating. That Jesus has already won. That he is in control, that he truly mourns over the lives some of our kids are living. That even when we feel the chaos of the place we are teaching in, he is in control. That we can really live lives that communicate “my life for yours” instead of “your life for mine” because he has done that for us.
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And so what does this all mean for us as teachers in a school that lives in the kingdom of the world. It means that we really can be ambassadors to this school, that we really can live a life of servant leadership, even if no one notices us. That we can serve our administration even when they frustrate us. We shouldn’t be surprised when the world acts like the world. We should expect it, but we know that he is “making all things new,” including this school.
MTR Camp Kingsbury Summer Showcase

Reflections From MTR Camp: Kids and Hope

Author: Allison Mollenkamp | MTR Camp Summer Intern 2016 | University of Alabama, Class of 2018

MTR Camp is a summer internship for college students interested in urban education. It is designed to provide academic enrichment within a summer camp experience for students who attend an MTR partner school.  Allison served at MTR Camp as a Reading Teacher at Kingsbury Elementary. She gave this reflection at the MTR Camp Closing Dinner.

When I was seven years old and in the second grade, I fell in love for the first time. With theatre that is. Boys were still kind of icky at that point. My second grade teacher, Ms. Dahms, had us write and perform our own puppet shows and do reader’s theatre for various holidays. I was hooked. I found a book at the library about how to be a playwright, which I would happily explain to anyone who would listen was spelled with a “ght” not a “te” because being a playwright was about crafting and creating, not just writing. I used the book to adapt a short story (and I mean very short, literally like two or three pages of second grader writing) I’d written into a play. A few months later I performed it with my brothers and my best friend for our parents. That was the first time the older of my two brothers got to demonstrate his unwavering professionalism by playing all the male roles, as our youngest brother had fallen asleep and could not perform.

Ms. Dahms gave me a new way to tell stories. I found voice for my own stories at seven years old, and theatre has continued to provide me that avenue for the past thirteen years.

This summer, thirteen years after Ms. Dahms gave me the gift of a way to tell stories, a bunch of six and seven year olds gave me a new story to tell. It’s a story of joy but also one where the ending isn’t written yet.

Meeting the kids this summer, I was honestly shocked at how happy they all are. It’s easy to imagine urban schools as places of doom and gloom. However, kids are kids everywhere. The children at Kingsbury have not yet realized that their school has less money than others, or that every statistic is stacked against them. They are happy to be at school with their friends and their teachers. They are happy to be learning and getting better at things. They have so much joy and hope that every day will be better than the last.

However, in many cases that hope can be drained away by the realities of America. Over ninety-nine percent of Kingsbury students are economically disadvantaged. These students will not have money for SAT prep classes or extra tutoring if they have trouble in high school. The kids we fell in love with may have an expiration date on their joy for school.

These realities also make it very easy to lose my own joy for kids and for teaching.It’s easy to think that maybe I don’t deserve how far I’ve gotten. Maybe I did well in school because my parents were doing well enough to work during the day and read to me before bed at night. Maybe I did well on tests because they’re written by other white upper middle class people. Maybe if I didn’t have those advantages I couldn’t afford to only work six weeks of the summer and learn as much as I have here. However, my guilt won’t fix anything. It’s important to acknowledge our privilege, but it’s more important to work to give everybody the same privilege, the same stepping stones to a good education and a happy life. I want to give the kids I worked with the same opportunity for continued joy that I have been given.

One of my favorite students, or sorry, one of the students who I liked a lot but exactly the same amount as all the other ones, was named Maria [name changed for privacy]. She turned six years old during camp, she has no front teeth, and she crinkles her nose when she laughs. Also, she’s absolutely brilliant. She loves to read and figure things out. She reminds me a lot of second grade me. Her enthusiasm is contagious. However, especially in the last week of camp, it got very sad to watch her because as I imagine a future for her, there are so many roadblocks between even her and college. Perhaps her teachers won’t have the time or resources to push her when she’s ahead of her classmates. Perhaps she will be faced with home-life issues that make it difficult for her to stay engaged at school. Perhaps she will make it past all that and have all the necessary stuff to go to college, but there won’t be anyone there to help her apply because she will get lost in a sea of less successful stories.

I don’t know how Maria’s story will end. I will likely not get to be a part of it because after this summer I see that I will probably never lead a classroom. However, I want to tell stories like Maria’s so that America knows that if we do our best even when no one is looking, as we told the kids to do, we can preserve Maria’s joy for school. We can help her story and all the other stories end a little happier. As I look to my next to years of college, I will carry the necessity of telling the stories of communities like Kingsbury with me. I hope to be a journalist or perhaps a policy maker and in either profession I want to bring awareness to the need and the potential of urban communities.

The second to last day of camp as I was walking Maria back to dance class after her sight word test, I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up. She smiled her nearly toothless smile and crinkled her nose. “I don’t know. Maybe a teacher.” I smiled too and told her that would be good. She could come back and teach here in Memphis. I asked if she would want to teach little kids or big kids and she didn’t have an answer, though I suggested she might need to get a little taller before she could teach high school. I hope that Maria is afforded the opportunities and the support necessary to become whatever she wants. In perfect circumstances, she could apply herself and become anything. I would proudly vote for President Maria in fifty years. However, there’s a special degree of hope if she becomes a teacher. She will understand the challenges her neighborhood faces and she can continue the work so many people here tonight hope to do.

To learn more about MTR Camp, visit the website. Applications for Summer 2017 open on October 1! For details about MTR Camp, contact MTR Camp Director, Candace Obadina, at candace@memphistr.org

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Making Memphis Home

Author: Olivia Besel | MTR Class of 2017 | MTR Intern (2015-16)

I knew the second I stepped out of that packed mini van, inhaled air that was 90% water, and made an awkward “hello” gesture to my future roommate, that operation ‘Make Memphis Home’ had begun.

My story is a little different. I got the unique opportunity to move to Memphis and live in the Georgian Woods Apartments for a whole year before starting the residency with the Class of 2017. This somewhat unintentional “gap” year has given me a chance to learn about Memphis, love all (well most) of its quirks, and begin the homemaking process. By definition, Memphis is home the second you agree to be a part of MTR and wade your way through the thick summer air. Why is this? Well, because you are now an established resident of the legendary Georgian Woods, and because you have entered into a family. And that is what this place is, that is what MTR is: one big family. It is nothing short of a beautiful collision of eager, justice driven people from all over the states coming together to make a difference through the passionate profession of teaching and education. However, easing into that truth takes time. I am going to list out some necessary housekeeping tips that I have learned in the last year in hopes that you either relate, or find some comfort in this process that is “making Memphis home.”

1. Let’s get this out of the way. Cockroaches. No one warned me so I am here to warn you. Roaches will try to rule the world, carry a bug bomb and raid on you at all times. Now, maybe that is dramatic, maybe it isn’t. For me, the only bug I had ever seen that looked anything like a cockroach was in the movie “The Mummy,” and nothing ended well any time those creatures were present. In order to feel at home here, you either need to conquer the fear of these bugs, or conquer them all together. Whether you decide to be like me and fumigate your house monthly, or you decide to just name each one and consider them as another roommate, may you at the very least not be caught off guard by the presence of a roach.

2. Stop and listen. Coming from a west coast state, Memphis meant entering into a whole new conversation. Memphis is rich in history and there is much to learn. Being here has meant a season of listening; listening to the history of this city, to the stories of others, and to the greater conversations that are very present and real even now. Come humble, come knowing that here is much to learn, and come vulnerable.

3. Establish a home base. This meant finding a church. Moving to a new city brought a hunger and need to belong. A home church is the perfect place to be known in this city apart from MTR. Now, we pride ourselves on being a family and completely community based, but it is nice to have a group of people outside of the sphere of education. There is a great work going on in our world, a beautiful story of redemption, but education is just one slice of the pie. So get out there, know, and be known. Great things are happening in this city and you can find many of the people involved in this work of restoration in places like community gatherings and churches.

4. We are inherently needy creatures, and that is okay. If you don’t believe that yet, we can work on that together because it is still a tension even I am wading through. For this to be your home, you need to let people love you and love you well. I can tell you with full confidence that you will step on Memphis soil and not have it “all figured out,” you don’t have to pretend. Approach this season as a learner of all things. When you run out of quarters and someone offers to let you do laundry at their house FOR FREE, do it. When someone offers to buy you coffee because your stipend is low and you look like you need it, TAKE IT. When there is free food at MTR, don’t be shy. This is the time for you to grow, learn, be humble, hungry and excited… don’t rob yourself of the joy of being loved and don’t rob others of the joy of serving you.

5. I hope you like your food BBQ’d and deep fried. I remember when I first moved here, I would walk around asking random people what they liked to do or places they liked to go. I am not kidding you, each suggestion revolved around food. I also remember ordering vegetables at a restaurant once and they appeared in front of me battered and fried. Here in memphis, we like blues and food. Don’t fight it, just go with it.

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6. Find your spot. I believe The Lord loves to give us rest and longs to speak to us in that rest. The hustle and bustle of a new city, new friends and a new family is not always restful. That being said, be intentional to find the places and the times in your weeks that bring you rest. Maybe that is rock climbing at Bridges. Maybe it is walking around Shelby Farms. Maybe it is visiting one of Memphis’ many fabulous coffee shops. Whatever it is, frequent that space that brings you peace. In rest we are reminded why we are loved, so do those things that make you feel most adored.

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I have been here almost exactly one year now. I can’t give you the best tour guide tips, or the top 20 most romantic roof tops in Memphis. Quite honestly, I still get lost and have never been on top of a roof here. I may name drop some restaurants and I will certainly recommend many coffee shops. I have lists of suggestions, journals full of learning moments and paradigm shifts, and even a quote board in my living room to serve as a hilarious reminder of what this year has meant. Those things have made this place home, but it all comes back to you and how you will make Memphis your home. The good news is, it’s pretty easy to fall in love with this city. So kill those roaches with confidence, do the things that make you feel loved, serve this city well, be fully present in the culture as a learner, and allow yourself to be welcomed into a space where you already belong.

Welcome to Memphis, welcome to MTR, and welcome home.

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Who Do You Play For?

Author: Tory Lang | MTR Class of 2016

On Friday, May 20, the MTR Class of 2016 celebrated their Union University graduation and completion of the Residency Year at the MTR Victory Party. Family and friends flooded in from across the nation to support and celebrate the accomplishments and commitment of the 2016s. Tory Lang, MTR c/o 2016, made the following Resident Address.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you family and friends for traveling from near and far to join us for our victory party. I asked my fellow residents to share words that they felt described this last year of our lives, and I’ve tried to incorporate some of them into this address so that each of our voices can be heard, shared, and remembered to reflect this glorious and beautiful struggle of a year. As I mention them, you’ll see them pop up on the screen.

The last time the majority of us were in this room, was almost exactly a year ago: May 28, 2015. We all remember this exact date since its permutation enables us 24/7 access to one of the greatest assets of residency year: unlimited printing. #blessed But really. That was the evening of our Welcome Dinner. We stood on this stage and announced with pride to the immense sea of people who we were, where we came from, what school we graduated from. We hadn’t seen the inspiring hockey movie Miracle en masse yet, so we didn’t know that we’d ultimately have to also answer the question: Who do you play for?

But on that first day of this transformative adventure, we were in this very room.

Later that week, again in this very room, we would learn the unforgettable names of Josh-Mo-Josh and Shelley-Ellie-Molly-Mary. We would eat Holiday Ham for the first of many times and create life maps. Telling our story to one another and listening to where each other came from and the lengths God had taken to bring us all there to that moment as we embarked on the hardest but most joyful year of our lives.

We have acquired so much more to add to our life maps in these last 358 days. We’ve loaded our bookshelves and brains with 16 different texts. We’ve developed and practiced strategies for both the classroom and for life that encompassed everything we didn’t know we needed. We’ve gained deliverance from the double life of an almost full-time classroom teacher and an actual full-time graduate student. Those summer days of we-actually-had-so-much-time-how-could-we-have-been-complaining-so-much seem surreal. Cultural Foundations and the CAP project, Exceptionalities and Classroom Leadership. All of the Bloom’s taxonomy. All of the alignment. We are one day away from a Master’s Degree in Urban Education that we completed in one year. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

In this last year, we’ve grown up and accomplished a lot, but we’ve done it together. We explored Memphis: the scavenger hunt, the Redbirds game, and the tours of FedEx, St. Jude, our neighborhoods, and, of course, Graceland. Community was bolstered as a surprising number of us found ourselves strengthening our immune systems at the Back to School Bash. We ran 5ks, half-marathons, and full marathons. We went to Grizzlies games (#GritandGrind) and the Brooks Museum (both of which provided complimentary drinks *wink*). And through this year of challenge and self-discovery, posts to the Facebook page about free events were abundant.

Hey, the stipend life was real. And if just mentioning the month October isn’t enough to make us all shudder in retrospect, a moment of silence is needed for every dollar paid to ETS that month for each PRAXIS exam. This year of high highs and low lows was epitomized in the fifth and fourth of each month respectively. Talk about beauty from ashes.

Though this year was hard for each of us in different ways, each daunting day cumulated in an impactful year.

We came here knowing who we were and where we came from, but this year taught me to remember to ask: Who do you play for?

Because speaking for myself, especially during those Lead Teach 5-day weeks, if the answer wasn’t God, I felt like I was failing. Or as one resident put it, like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV without the gratification of knocking out the Russian.

But really! We’ve all had those days, those weeks, maybe even months for some of us when we feel like we were the Russian. Knocked out and down for the count and drowning in it. We were physically spent and emotionally drained from brokenness. The brokenness of our city, our schools, our students, and ourselves. So for me in those moments, if the answer to: “Who do you play for?” was any of these, then I was perpetually on the side of this brokenness that I could see each day.

But when the answer to “Who do you play for?” was my Abba, the exhausting became refining. The overwhelming became sanctifying. The transitional became enlightening. As another resident put it, “it’s like that scene in Divergent where Tris jumps off the building not knowing that there will be a net at the bottom.”

Retroactive spoiler alert.

Such grace we have been given to serve a God who is constantly our net in the darkness. Remembering this truth has personally been one of my biggest lessons this year. When I felt like I was falling or on the precipice of doing so, which was often, I needed to remember to ask: Who do you play for?

Given all that we’ve accomplished this last year, the late night lesson plans and procrastination papers, the miserable mornings and the queue for the copier. A year in the classroom and a Master’s degree under our belts. For me, that answer to this question can’t be anyone other than God. He is simultaneously the humbling and redemptive force loving me when I lack the capacity to do so. Holding me in balance when I can’t even stand. Listening when I can only cry. When I remember to ask this question, I am reminded of whom I get to play for. So even in the midst of the hardest of hardship, which for some of us looks like lots and lots of puberty, I can find myself learning joy. It is not easy or simple or formulaic. It is my grace-filled God.

Dearest, 2016s, let’s take a deep breath and look at where we are. Look at where we started. The fact that we’re alive is a miracle. So remember to ask: Who do you play for?

Interested in learning more about MTR and the Residency Year? Check out the MTR website.

 

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Ultimate Victory Party Address

The MTR Class of 2013 celebrated fulfilling their four year MTR commitment on April 21 at their Ultimate Victory Party. Aubrey Adams made the following address to her fellow cohort members. 

Well, we have made it. We are a few steps away from the finish line of our final year in the Memphis Teacher Residency. I for one am going about my days with surreal tint.

There are several good reasons to have a gathering like this: celebration, reconnection, libations, but I think a deeper one might be practicing remembrance. Scripture speaks several times about the art of remembrance. There are vows to remember the deeds of the LORD and his wonders of old. One way that we do that is to read his word, and remember that there is nothing so big and mighty as to stay His hand. The church calendar also helps us not to forget that God interacts and permeates all of life. Most profoundly, God beckons us into sacred remembrance with communion, and yet another way is what we are doing tonight: remembering the wondrous deeds of God in our own lives. In the Old Testament, God’s people set up simple altars of remembrance at places where God did an especially powerful miracle, taught an important lesson, or where he dramatically rescued them. I think that I speak for many of us in saying that these years have been quite formative and worthy of remembering, so I want to describe a few of the stones on this metaphorical altar.

Day In, Day Out

First, there’s the day in, day out nature of these four years – the shaping, grinding moments. Four years is a short but long time. It’s a lot of papers to grade; it’s innumerable moments of conflict resolution and shaking dirty hands. It’s late nights of work, heart breaking stories, and many mornings of praying yourself out of bed. It’s a lot of pouring out your life.

It’s learning how to love when the lovely, becomes unlovely, and then surprisingly lovely again. It’s working within the illogical for its good even when it hurts you. It’s tearful IEP meetings, raging emotions, and beautiful resilient souls sitting before you. It’s the weight of the brokenness and the beautiful all in one room, every day for a whole school year.

It’s a short but long time to watch, to work, to wait, and to pray. Our moments make our life’s liturgy, and I think we have a rich one to look back on.

A Great Good

Second, there has been great good to come from our work. We have furthered the cause of equality in urban education, increased students’ reading levels, taught them multi-step equations, and seen the light go on at a first understanding of mitosis. We have developed wonderful relationships with our MTR class, our coworkers, our students, and others in the city of Memphis. We have celebrated many significant life moments in the past four years: marriages, new babies, and professional achievements and grieved with and depended on each other in losses as well. We have been gifted joy and growth and memories to smile at.

Deeper Learning

Third, there’s the deep learning that’s happened here. I remember one of the pastors during our church preview week saying, “God has brought you here not so much to redeem this city or the students in it but to sanctify and work on you.” At the time that statement felt a little deflating to my idealistic vision, but now it’s undeniably true. We have been molded here. When I look over my classroom, I see my students as soldiers often living with joy amidst unbelievable difficulty. I see their smiles at the simplest of things and see their ingenuity fill in the gaps. I see the effects of the inner city on my students, and yet the fighter still remains in them. My students resilience draws me, and I learn from them endurance and perseverance and to be still while God fights for me.

We’ve learned to trust God’s sovereignty and the eternal significance of our work when the ugly question of “why am I doing this?” keeps entering our minds unbidden, and we feel like we are not sowing seed, not watering, but plowing concrete. We have sat in the space where the flesh and Spirit meet and prayed to be led by the Spirit.

We’ve learned to be courageous because like our fellow 2013 Stephanie Milazzo wrote awhile ago, “While we may have never considered ourselves particularly courageous, maybe courage is nothing more than understanding the cost of life as a disciple and still walking. To know the weight and pain and brokenness of this world, and to kneel down and pray, (even in a fearful and weak voice), Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We’ve learned more of true joy and compassion as we’ve spent time amongst our students and learned to celebrate God’s image in them.

What We Take From Here

The fourth stone I want to place on our altar of remembrance is a vision for what we take from here.

I think we can take two thoughts. First, we can borrow from Thomas Merton in that we must not depend upon the hope of results. We must face the fact that our work here or in the future may be apparently worthless and achieve no result at all. We must not strive to build an identity in our work to protect against nothingness. We must simply commit to allow ourselves to be, in the obedience of faith, used by God’s love. The big results are not in our hands. We will continue to work and hope for them, if they come, we will rejoice, share, and celebrate, but we must focus on Christ’s truth and abiding in him.1

Second, we can dig deeper into hope both of change here on earth and longing for the second coming. We can echo Isaiah’s sentiments as he looked at a desert of rocks, dreamed of the future, and said, “until a spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace and the result of righteousness, quietness, and trust forever. My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”2

I’m thankful to have spent four years here with you and to have learned and served along side you. Let us look forward in hope and backwards in gratitude with a deeper sense who and whose we are.

See photos of the entire MTR Class of 2013 in this Facebook album and their MTR Life videos from four years ago here

1 Forest, Jim. “Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton.” Revised Edition. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2008), 174-175.

2 “Isaiah 32:15-18.” The Holy Bible: New International Version, Containing the Old Testament and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible, 1978. N. pag. Print.

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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. 

Robin-

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,

david

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