Are you an English, Math, Science, Spanish, or History major? Do you find yourself asking, “What do I do with this major?” Do you also love people (specifically kids) and have a heart for developing communities?
If you answered, “Yes” to any or all of the above, you may want to stick around for this next question.
How do you feel about Memphis, Tennessee?
Memphis Teacher Residency, a faith-based, non-profit started in 2008, is focused on educating and training teachers to go into the inner city of Memphis and teach in a Christ-like way, building a bridge between the church and the current turmoil of urban education.
Participants are required to finish one year of student teaching combined with classes taken at Union University. The program pays for its participants to get their Masters of Urban Education in addition to paying for their housing and providing them with a small living stipend.
In 2014, Erin Brinkman, currently a high school English teacher through MTR, was on the verge of graduating from Covenant College with no real idea of what she wanted to do. She found herself asking, “What do I do with an English major?” A worker in the admissions office threw out Memphis Teacher Residency as an option.
Having transferred from Sarah Lawrence College as an Economic Development major, Brinkman saw an opportunity to utilize her gifts and passions in this program. Brinkman went through the grueling application process, which Jones is currently in the midst of finishing, and was accepted.
Brinkman’s story is unique because she actually ended up moving into the community she was teaching. She spent the past year living three minutes from her school in one of the six communities that MTR has permeated.
She described the year as, for the most part, “unremarkable.” As she delved deeper into her time spent in this neighborhood, she explained that her time there had been helpful in her bonds with her students, including a pregnant student in need of a caring figure who lived just a few streets over.
“Are you nervous to be here?”
Brinkman often fielded this question while she lived near her students. She went to the funeral of a student who had gotten out of control, a student approached Brinkman, one of the few white people in attendance. “Are you nervous to be here?”
“I’m not afraid of you. I’m comfortable with you. I’m not afraid of you guys.”
Although, Brinkman feels a level of comfort in this community now, she was sure to convey that this is not an easy job. She relayed that no amount of classroom time can prepare you for when, in your first year of teaching, one of your students pushes you against the wall and tells you to “suck a dick.”
Although sitting in a classroom cannot prepare you for these types of experiences, it can equip you with a proper worldview. Brinkman discussed that, as a Covenant student, she felt prepared, not entirely from the Education department, but more from courses like Christian Mind and Global Trends, which instilled upon her an idea taught in her early courses of MTR as well: “The way I see myself is the way I see my school.”
Brinkman clarified this statement by suggesting that the way we should view ourselves is not as saviors of urban education:
“You can’t go in and think, ‘I’m going to teach and make a difference.’ You need a whole community of people who share a goal even if you don’t have the answer.”
The idea of Memphis Teacher Residency, to send Christian teachers into areas with high poverty and low graduation, is one that is slowly being brought to similar areas such as Hamilton County. Project Inspire is currently following a similar path but is only catering to those with a desire to teach Math, Science, or Elementary Education. Slowly, Hamilton County is attempting to reach the number of communities and schools that Memphis has in an attempt to end “the greatest civil rights injustice of our time”--urban education.
For more information on MTR, visit https://memphistr.org/residency/. For more information on Project Inspire, visit http://www.projectinspiretn.org.