In 2015, several TFA alumni held a Story Slam for teachers and community members to share--and hear--honest stories from the classroom. The event became a launchpad for Teachers Lounge Indy, a community that connects teachers across Indianapolis.
August 16, 2018
If you’ve ever attended or participated in a local Teacher Story Slam, you’ll most likely be familiar with Teachers Lounge Indy. In 2015, the initiative launched after TFA alum Ronak Shah (Indy ’12) and several other teachers identified a need to design social experiences through which teachers across school types and communities could gather to share diverse perspectives and stories, supporting one another in the collective effort to serve a broad and diverse student population in Indianapolis.
We sat down with Ronak, who shared about the inspiration and story behind Teachers Lounge Indy—and on how new and current teachers can get involved.
What is Teachers Lounge Indy?
The Teachers Lounge is a collection of social opportunities designed to help early career teachers build relationships with one another as well as with the community and city, in order to sustain them through the hardest years of the profession. Ideally, in the future, it’ll be a physical space.
How was it formed?
A few years ago, we found that while there are a lot of professional social events in the city, a lot of teachers aren’t taking the time to find them or know that they exist. Teachers coming from cities outside of Indy end up living far away from the city and are often either spending most of their time in their neighborhood, when not at school. A Butler graduate working in Indy may know more about the city, than someone who graduated from a school of education outside of the city, or who moved here after spending most of their life someone else.
There wasn’t anything uniting teachers across Teach For America, Woodrow Wilson, Marian, UIndy, and others to separate sectors. Nothing also connected early and late/retired teachers across townships and districts. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to bring teachers together. I had been reading about story slams in other TFA regions, which I thought was a really cool idea. As part of the TFA-Indy Alumni Board, we were on a subcommittee to support teachers and so pitched this idea for Indianapolis. We hosted our first story slam at Ash & Elm Cider in Fall of 2015, and there were 100 in attendance—some teachers, some not.
How has Teachers Lounge Indy grown since?
To expand our reach to a more diverse community of teachers, both inside and outside of TFA, we decided to become our own initiative, and Teachers Lounge Indy was officially born. We held our second Story Slam in the spring and, from there, have hosted and co-hosted a wide range of events. We’ve had two trivia nights at Sun King for teachers across grade levels and subject areas, where pints raised money for Teachers Treasures. We’ve also had three more Story Slams, two with Chalkbeat and WFYI at the Central Library, for which pints went to Chalkbeat. We also had a more specialized Story Slam in partnership with Schools on Wheels at The Speak Easy, where the lens was on students experiencing homelessness. In addition, we’ve partnered with Arts for Learning a few other organizations for various specialized events.
In much of your social programming, you connect teachers through storytelling. Why is storytelling such a critical component to building community?
Early career teachers often get confused that their experiences are unique in a way that says something negative about them as a teacher. Some get in the mindset of I’m such a failure and other teachers are amazing. When an early career teacher hears from an experienced teacher speaking to some of the worst experiences of their lives, it’s a reminder that we all share similar experiences. It’s not that you’re a bad person or teacher—you can get better.
There’s an ideal view of success in the classroom, often in videos about high-performing teachers, where a teacher stands in front of compliant students who are completely quiet and attentive. That is not my classroom, but it looks good to everyone else. That is not the narrative we’re trying to tell here through our storytelling events. See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers by Roxanna Elden is a great book highlighting short anecdotes from the classroom and tackling the myth of the “super teacher.” The schtick is that it’s hard for everyone. When I read that, that was another resource that affirmed these stories matter a lot—and we need a platform for people to share them. Frankly, teachers who feel insecure about themselves and share tough stories in front of a group of people will feel so much better. For example, Allissa [Moore Impink] (Indy ’14) and Sarah [TeKolste] (Indy ’15) were two teachers who spoke to how they kept going through rough experiences at the last Teachers Lounge Story Slam—that showed resilience and curiosity. For a lot of people, the experience is affirming.
How can new and current teachers get involved?
Facebook is our main way of reaching out to people. We post all of our events on Facebook and duplicate them through Eventbrite. We’re also going to try to expand to different spaces like the Southside and reach new communities of teachers in an effort to diversify our network.
If you’re interested in learning more, we also encourage you to connect with any of these TFA alumni who are members of our Steering Committee:
- Sarah TeKolste (Indy ’15, Shortridge High School)
- Anna Handy (Nashville ’12, Pleasant Run Elementary)
- Chelsey Lang (Indy ’16, IMSA North)
- Jack Hesser (Indy ’16, Harshman Middle School)
- Shivani Goyal (Indy ’15, Global Preparatory Academy)
- Katrina Baumann (Indy ’16, KIPP Indy Unite)
- Nicole Szoko (Indy ’13, North Central High School)