Well, here I am– after months of anticipation– I am sitting in my dorm room with my amazing roommate Anna at the University of Memphis. Today was our first day of Institute, and let me just say… they definitely don’t start you off slow here. I spent 12 hours today in scheduled programming, but it was all amazing. First, however, let me briefly reflect on the move! I drove down to Cincinnati on Friday night and stayed with the lovely, accommodating grandparents. The drive was probably the most stressful drive of my life due to weather, traffic, and construction. However, I made it safely, and got to spend time with my family, however brief, which is always welcome. On Saturday I drove the remaining 8 hours to Memphis, where I stayed with Gina from Bike and Build. Stewart is also in Memphis (for at least the summer), so he was with us! I really enjoyed catching up with them and look forward to some good bike rides this summer. On Sunday, it was finally time to move in. I surprisingly wasn’t nervous. It is interesting because I would compare this experience to Bike and Build in a lot of ways, and I was sooo nervous before B&B. Here, however, I felt completely chill. I met with Rhiannon, my future roommate, for brunch at a yummy place called Bayou Bar & Grill in midtown, and then we headed to the university for registration. We got bombarded with information, and then worked together to carry all of our belongings inside. Got a great workout! I live on the 5th floor, and I am DEDICATED to taking the stairs this summer! I finally got to meet my roommate, Anna, who is from my TLC group (basically a smallish cohort that you work with during the summer). Speaking of TLC… I did get some sad news. These past few months I had been in Tammie’s TLC group, which I fell in love with. I feel like we all bonded on both social and professional levels, even though all of our communication was done online. Also, Tammie is a GREAT teacher, and I felt like I learned so much from her already, and I was excited to continue to learn more. Sadly, I found out upon arrival that my TLC group (as well as Anna’s) was switched to Jess’s group. This broke my heart a little bit, but after my first TLC meeting with Jess today, I am feeling much better about the situation! Tammie assured Anna and I that Jess is awesome, and I can see it. Anyways, I am rambling about a day that isn’t even as important as today was, but I love my roommate situation and everyone I have met so far. Of course, we have already had a couple of funny situations of being lost, Target mishaps, etc. My life, honestly! We ended the day at YOLO Frozen Yogurt in Midtown, and walked around a little bit. This was my first exposure to one reality of Memphis which is the fact that privilege and poverty can literally be right across the street from each other. It was very interesting to see, and I learned more about this today.
SPEAKING OF… today! Finally! We started the morning with our school leader and team for the summer. I will be at the Memphis Business Academy teaching high school ELA (English/Language Arts). Our leader is Kyle, and he is so inspirational! He gave us a speech and gave us three “to do” items for every day:
2. Demonstrate appreciation for someone
3. Written reflection
This blog will serve as my written reflection– I will try very hard to write something every day, although I can’t guarantee that it will always be as thorough as this “essay” currently is, haha. Kyle inspired us to “live up to the legacy” because Memphis has a history of leadership, from civil rights to music. This resonated with me because it is actually a part of my Personal Theory of Change, which I will write more specifically about later.
Afterwards, we went to the Opening Plenary, which began with a spoken word poem by an incoming senior student at a school in Memphis. It was about poetry, listening, and breathing, and I was very impressed! Afterwards, we heard from Athena, our director, who made us reflect on why we are doing this work and why we chose Memphis. This is a theme that continued throughout the day. She told us that we will be staring injustice in the face every day, and we have to consistently be dedicated to fighting it. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1968 before his assassination, “Something is happening in Memphis. Something is happening in our world.” Afterwards, we got to witness a panel where we learned more about why we are committed to Memphis. We also got to hear more about where education stands in Memphis today, which was interesting. Memphis is currently undergoing something called the merger, in which the Memphis City Schools and the Shelby County Schools are combining to become the Unified School District. This has created a lot of controversy. While it originally began as an economic issue, it is now something that will educationally benefit the city. I am sure I will learn more about this later. Hearing the panelists speak reminded me that as controversial as what you have to do is, you have to know that it is the right thing. This sticks with me because I have faced a lot of disdain from people, especially educator friends, who are not fans of Teach for America for a number of reasons. While I can understand some of these controversies, I know that what I am doing is necessary and important. This entry is getting rather winded, so to summarize the rest of the day, I went to a number of various panels. We literally did not even have time for lunch scheduled, that’s how packed our day was (we did get to eat though, don’t worry). Some things that stuck with me throughout the day were hearing specific stories of success and progress, showing that Memphis is a proof point. The conversation regarding education has changed to be student focused and regarding high expectations. Additionally, I learned a lot about the importance of relationships with students (which I already knew), and that is it important not to force middle class values on students and families. We need to look outside the traditional sense of everything, and see what the communities imagine themselves to be– not what we want them to be. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier regarding my brief walking tour, I noticed that a lot of people believe in the significance of synthesizing everything (school, local businesses, community, etc.), but right now there is a huge disconnect where poverty and privilege can literally be next door, and some students never go 6 blocks away from where they live. I got to reflect on all of these issues, and more, with my TLC group, which was great! I am working with some AMAZING people, and I cannot wait to get to know them. Finally, to end the day, we had a session on the Theory of Change, which began with a conversation between a TFA corps member and her student. The student reflected on how he has become a better writer, and when he said that he had passed his writing test & his score, everyone in the audience started cheering and clapping for him. The student got a huge smile on his face, and I honestly teared up. It was clear in that moment to me how important this work is. Everyone here is an advocate for these students we barely know but are already falling in love with. This is critical.
This post would be incomplete without a reflection of the end of my day. While everything I took in was so informative and great, I am not going to lie by 5:30 PM I was tired. We had been sitting in sessions since 8 AM, and I had a headache that made me feel sick to my stomach. However, we had yet to visit our school sites for the summer for a student/community dinner. The instant that I walked into that school I was rejuvenated and all smiles. Seeing the students that I sincerely instantly fell in love with was great. The students introduced themselves to us, and we got to eat with them. They also gave us a tour of the school. Two of the students are college bound next year, and they were very inspirational. Additionally, one of Jess’s students at Frayser High School (the lowest performing high school in the Achievement School District) joined us. It was great to talk to him and hear about the differences between these two schools (the one we are at for the summer is a charter school). Jess said he writes good poetry, so I sent him a video of a slam poet– “Pursue Your Passion” by Kirk Nugent– check it out if you can on YouTube. The positive energy I felt upon entering that school building was so refreshing. It reminded me that although I may get tired this summer, and I may want to sleep, and I may get frustrated, I LOVE these kids, and I love working with them, and that just makes me all smiles!
All right– that’s enough for the evening. We have another long day coming up. I get to go to my school for the upcoming year for the first time tomorrow evening, and I am so excited (and slightly nervous).
Good night! BTW– not proofreading this due to lack of time, so don’t judge any errors, please! I am an English teacher, but I am not perfect!