Skip to main content

Four Couples Who Found Love at Teach For America

Meet four couples who found each other in the corps.

Collage image of court couples of multiple races and gender that met during their time in Teach For America

By The TFA Editorial Team

February 11, 2021

Teach For America is full of passionate, hard-working leaders who made the leap to teach and work as advocates for kids in the classroom. With the organization attracting like-minded individuals who share a personal commitment to educational justice, many have incidentally found their soulmates while fighting on the frontlines.

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we interviewed four couples who met while working as Teach For America educators.

Photo of couple Brian Buttacavoli (Bay Area ’13) and Mary McKenna (Bay Area ’15) standing in front of a tree hugging side-by-side

Brian Buttacavoli (Bay Area ’13) and Mary McKenna (Bay Area ’15)

How did you first meet? 

We met on the first day of summer professional development for our school. Brian walked in late in the auditorium (so all eyes were on him), and his confident presence immediately caught my attention. During the first break of the day, he came over to me since he had already wrapped up his TFA experience and wanted to give me the “low down” on the school and the culture.

Tell us about the first date?

It was in September, so in the Bay Area, the weather is ideal—sunny, a little breeze, Pixar-looking clouds. We went to Philz Coffee and got it to go, and walked to a little park in Berkeley. We shared about our families, goals, what brought us to the Bay Area. Classic first date vibes

How did you support each other while in the classroom? 

Brian had already taught the cohort of kids that entered my classroom, so he had a million and one stories about each students’ interests and ways they loved to learn. He was working on his thesis at this time, so I supplied him with coffee, lunches, and a buddy to watch silly youtube videos with.

What are you most thankful for in your relationship? 

Our common passion for education, along with our work ethic. We both wanted to have a partner that supported staying in the education world and would push the other to become better.

Wedding photo of Janani Raveendran and Joel Antwi (Las Vegas ’12)

Janani Raveendran and Joel Antwi (Las Vegas ’12)

What brought you to Teach For America?

We wanted to explore our passion for education and continue to work with vulnerable populations after college.

How did you first meet?

Our eyes locked from across the room in our search to pick partners during an ice breaker session before teacher training.

How did you support each other while in the classroom? 

Even though we didn't teach at the same school, we constantly shared with each other the ups and downs of our day-to-day experiences, provided a listening ear, and gave candid advice. In our free time, we ate a lot of pizza in the company of each other and the TV. 

What are you most thankful for in your relationship?

That friendship is the foundation of our relationship.

Anything else you would like us to know about?

This summer, we are planning to move to D.C. to advance our careers in medicine and law, and we look forward to starting a family! 

Photo from the wedding of Andrea Smith Bailey (Greater New Orleans ’99) and Mark Bailey (Greater New Orleans ’01) . Andrea is standing behind Mark laughing while he holds a glass of champagne

Andrea Smith Bailey (Greater New Orleans ’99) and Mark Bailey (Greater New Orleans ’01)

What brought you to Teach For America? 

A desire to serve, work with kids, go where we were needed, and learn as much as we could while working for equity. We both checked the box that we were willing to teach special education, and it was a life-changing box for both of us. Mark already lived in New Orleans because he went to Tulane. I knew nothing about New Orleans but wanted to experience life outside of rural North Carolina. New Orleans was love at first sight, and we made a life there together for over 15 years.

How did you support each other while in the classroom? 

Being special educators was (and still is) a big part of our professional identities. Mark helped start one of the first inclusion programs for students with special needs in a New Orleans high school. I have always been passionate about working with students with severe emotional and behavioral differences. Often the kids I worked with in elementary school would eventually go to the high school where he worked because I knew he would make sure they were taken care of. 

Post-Katrina, we relied on collective support a lot, especially as we were both part of charter schools trying to set the bar for inclusivity for special needs students. I was the founding Counselor for ReNew School’s Therapeutic Program, which served students with severe emotional disturbances. Mark was the founding Special Education Director for the first charter high school to open in the city of New Orleans after Katrina.

What are you most thankful for in your relationship? 

Humor has definitely been a saving grace to keep us sane and not to take ourselves too seriously, especially when the going gets tough. Unconditional love and belief in the other through all the ups, downs, and adventures. The tough and wonderful things we’ve been through, so much of which is rooted in Teach For America, which brought us to New Orleans.

Photo of Sabina Kozak (Rio Grande Valley ’14) and Rebecca Merten (Rio Grande Valley ’13) smiling cheek to cheek

Sabina Kozak (Rio Grande Valley ’14) and Rebecca Merten (Rio Grande Valley ’13)

How did you support each other while in the classroom? 

During our time in TFA, we helped each other with everything from lesson planning to navigating professional relationships to ordering the right type of breakfast taco at Stripes. We still help each other out in our roles! We both work in schools but now in the South Coast, Massachusetts, and often run ideas, professional development sessions, email drafts, and, most importantly, funny ice breaker ideas by the other person.

Do you two have similar or different teaching styles? 

We are both animated and silly with students. We firmly believe in mandatory fun for adults and kids. Becca prefers working with high school students, whereas I prefer the “energy” of middle schoolers. 

When did you first know your partner was “the one?” 

When Becca dressed up as a really cool dinosaur for our staff Halloween party. 

What are you most thankful for in your relationship? 

We appreciate having a partner who supports the other one, enjoys the same activities, and loves the same nerdy hobbies (puzzles, birding, geocaching, silly costumes). We are currently foster parents (and pandemic teachers) to our two adorable kids who love Legos and don’t get to opt out of mandatory fun.