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How TFA Memphis Changed My Life

I didn’t realize that joining TFA Memphis would be the most transformational experience of my life.

By Peter Rosenberger

February 8, 2022

A teacher wearing a dark colored button down.

I didn’t realize when I joined Teach For America Memphis in 2016 that I was a part of the 10 year anniversary corps, but it did become a little fun fact that I appreciated about the group of people I moved to Memphis with in June of that year. I think it’s possible that some anniversary magic occurred because it quickly became clear that the 2016 corps was a very special group of people and would have amazing, positive impacts on their schools and the city. I know all corps years are special and great in their own ways, and I say this despite my extreme bias, but, if we’re being honest, the 2016 corps is just a tad bit more special, in my opinion.

Another thing I didn’t realize at the time was that joining TFA Memphis would be the most transformational experience of my life.

The obvious reason for this is that TFA Memphis brought me to my placement school, KIPP Memphis Collegiate High (KMCH), where I have worked as an English teacher and now a college and career counselor for the past five and a half years.  The students and families that I have served and the teachers and leaders I’ve worked with have made my job immeasurably meaningful and rewarding.  I’ve had the opportunity to watch and guide students as they have acted out A Streetcar Named Desire in class, analyzed themes in Beloved by Toni Morrison, learned about the different paths they can take after high school, and started to plan how they will achieve their dreams.  It’s possible I would have found my way to this work without TFA Memphis, but I don’t know how likely that possibility is, to be honest.  Working with my students as they wonder and analyze and dream and plan is the best gift I’ve ever been given, and I have TFA Memphis to thank for knocking over the first domino that led me on the journey I’ve been on for the past five and a half years.

Looking back, it’s not surprising that my TFA Memphis experience was so transformational considering the following facts:

  1. So much has been stacked against Memphis students, their schools, and their communities, by design.  
  2. This city’s young people are among the world’s most creative, thoughtful, and lively, and they deserve so much more (access, resources, opportunity) than they’ve been given.
  3. The communities where TFA Memphis teachers work are richly historic and vibrant, and they deserve so much more (access, resources, opportunity) than they’ve been given.
  4. So many of the passionate, dedicated teachers and leaders working alongside Memphis students, families, and communities as they overcome a barrage of structural impediments came to the city by way of Teach For America.

For me, this constellation of facts gets at the impact TFA Memphis teachers and alumni have had over the fifteen years TFA has been in Memphis.  My TFA friends will still occasionally tease me for being one of the early “Kool-Aid drinkers,” but what I quickly came to believe in, and what I still believe in now, is a group of TFA Memphis teachers and alumni working with love and commitment to serve and empower the students, families, and communities of this city. I’ve seen so many TFA Memphis teachers and leaders in this city help along the way, in both big and small ways, and this is why I’m proud to be a TFA Memphis alum. The work of schools and teachers is only becoming more difficult and politicized. This only adds to the gratitude that I feel toward TFA Memphis as it continues to bring passionate and innovative teachers and leaders to a city I have grown to love deeply.