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Q&A with Cydni Alexander (Memphis '17)

We recently had a chance to sit down with Corps Member Cydni Alexander and learn more about her and her experience as a teacher and proud TFA Memphis alum.

Cydni Alexander (Memphis '17) in front of her 4th grade classroom sign

March 2, 2023

Cydni Alexander grew up on the west side of Chicago, Illinois and is a proud Chicagoan. She received her Bachelor’s from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana and then applied for Teach For America. Cydni applied her junior year and got denied. It was her mother and a Teach For America recruiter from Nashville who pushed her to apply again.

"I applied and Memphis was in my top three. I heard so much about Memphis from my dear friend and TFA Memphis Alum, Arion Clanton. I accepted to come to Memphis and I have not left. I love Memphis, Mane," said Cydni.

What have you learned about yourself in your time being a teacher?

The thing that I have learned in my time as a teacher is that it is okay to not have it all at once. My first year was the hardest year of my life because I truly wanted to have it all. I wanted my students and I to master all the standards, have amazing classroom management, be involved in the community I served and still try to have a social life. However, I achieved none of what I wanted my first-year teaching and I beat myself up for it.

At a summer professional development, another teacher told me “If you had it all, you would not be here, you would not be here. Be patient and grow every year. It is the same thing we tell our kids”.

What she said stuck with me and every year from that day, I pushed myself to learn something new that would benefit me inside and outside of the classroom. I do not exhaust myself like I did my first year, I learn what I can. Anything that I learn, I teach to others who want to learn as well.

How do you involve families in your students' education?

I grew up in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood just like my students in Chicago. Fortunately for me, my mother knew most of the education laws and regulations and could assist me with anything that I needed. Unfortunately, the families I grew up with did not know education laws and regulations and could not assist their children who desperately needed help. This, and my mother, pushed me to not only educate my students but also their families.

If I know that a student needs an IEP or any educational services, I make sure to teach my families exactly what they need to know. I also check in with my families monthly about their children’s progress and keep them informed. Today, I still assist some of my first-year families with their other children and the problems they face in schools. I see so many of my peers and their families in the families I serve today. I want to be the help that my peers and their families never received.

If someone were to come into your classroom, what would they see?

If someone were to come into my classroom, they would see a very engaged classroom. They would see my students and I laughing and correcting my mistakes. My students would also say, “Mistakes are okay. You got this.” It is the same thing I tell them when they make a mistake.

They would also see so many hands in the air to answer questions and to read the passages aloud. There are also occasional “yell-outs'' because my students are impatient and just want me to know that they know the answer. I just smile or laugh and tell them “That was rude, raise your hand” but, I love their enthusiasm. You will see students working with each other and having discussions about the passage and pulling evidence to support their answers. You will see me circling around the room and facilitating conversations. My students do most of the heavy lifting in their education.

What is the biggest advice you would share with people who are interested in becoming teachers?

My advice to those who aspire to be teachers is that this takes HEART work. There is a major difference between HEART work and hard work. Hard work is achieving your goals by any means necessary. Heart work is putting others before yourself and choosing the right thing to do every time. Heart work is helping others achieve their goals, so you align your goals with their goals. Your entire heart has to be in teaching. Their life, their future and goals are yours and you have to help them just as you would help yourself. When working in a grinding like MEMPHIS, pour your heart into work just like the people here do. This is my only advice to aspiring teachers.

What can we find you doing in your free time?

In my free time, you can catch me shopping. I love going to Carriage Crossing or Wolfchase. I love going to the different places to eat around Memphis. I can’t lie, the wings in Memphis are top tier. You can also find me supporting my students’ sports games on the weekends. I love being that fired up teacher in the stands and my students love when I come to support them. They talk about it forever! My absolute favorite thing to do is to watch Memphis sunsets. I like to go to Mud Island or Shelby Park Farms and watch the sunsets. They are the most beautiful here. I felt even more grief when I discovered that I share the same passion for the Memphis sunsets as Tyre Nichols. I wished he were to experience more of this Memphis beauty.

Cydni Alexander (Memphis '17) helping a student at their desk