First we GRIND, now let’s show our Memphis GRIT!

Christina Cropper, 2017 Memphis corps member, addresses her peers at the conclusion of the 2017 Memphis Institute on July 12, 2017. Below are her remarks. 

Hello TFA Memphis Corp 2017! First off congratulations, we did it we made it through institute! I am honored to speak before you today.

For those of you who don’t know me, which I hope isn’t a lot, my name is Christina Cropper, I am originally from Severna Park, MD which is north of Annapolis and south of Baltimore. I grew up in the suburbs and growing up, education was always extremely important and my parents always pushed me to do well in school. I went to public school from kindergarten to 12th grade and proud to say that I am a #productofpublicschool.

However, not all public schools are created equal. Yes, I am a product of public school; but not a public school in a low-income community that was considered a food desert. Yes, I am a product of public school; but not as a person of color who faces oppression, prejudice, and stereotypes every day of their life. Yes, I am a product of public school; but not in a system where everything is stacked against me, yet I was expected to succeed on purely my own accord. My public-school experience was filled opportunities I took for granted. I know now this is not the public school our students experience, but it can be the public school that we provide for them.

Fast forward to fall of 2013 I, a product of public school, was a sprightly young freshman starting my first year at Penn State. I entered college with my college fund and “invisible backpack” of privilege excited and giddy about what college could bring. Going into college, I’ll admit, I was oblivious to the struggles my own peers might’ve faced getting to the same point I was at. In my mind, we had all worked hard to get to Penn State and had the same amount of hardship getting to that point.

It wasn’t until I read a book my sophomore year about a school that I grew up 15 mins from where teachers were feeling constant pressure to meet MSA scores and the students didn’t get a full well rounded education that I started to realize my schooling was different. It wasn’t until I met Junior my Junior year, who had to drop out second semester to go home because his mother couldn’t afford her healthcare or until I heard the stories of my classmates worried about financial aid I started to realize I had access to opportunities others did not have.

The zip code where I was born—manufactured by racial and economic segregation—was the reason my education was different.

And that is what brought me to TFA. Learning about the inequity and injustice our education system serves to our nations students lit a flame in me. It pushed me to find an organization that was dedicated to the fight and believed to their core that every child deserves a quality education and opportunity despite their zip code. I knew if I wanted to make real change in the education system, I would have to start at its core, the classrooms, and teaching was the way I could do that.

Fast forward to 6 weeks ago when I started my trek to Memphis for institute. I was excited to start the fight toward equitable education and although not sure what to expect, knew I would at least be in the land of blues and good bar-b-q.

That first session and first week of institute, I had officially “drank the Kool-Aid.” That first week, the locals of Memphis showed me the ropes and introduced me to this beautiful unique city and the “transplants” showed me how quickly the infectious energy of Memphis manifests in you and drives you to push yourself to show up for your kids and this city.

The staff and coaches of TFA Memphis has a fire and passion for the work that they do that is beyond inspiring and has made me dedicated to not only the fight for educational equity but for Memphis. They have offered me support and have helped me grow. I have made connections with my fellow corps members that will withstand the test of time. Whether it’s in sessions, in the dining hall, or in the grindhouse there is a sense of community and support that I have never felt from people I’ve known for such a short amount of time. Seeing the passion other people have for educational equity and the tireless work they will do to reach that goal and to help their students succeed is refreshing and inspiring. The kids of Memphis put a name and face to a cause. Through summer school at Freedom Prep I have seen the resilience, the grit, and the determination that these children have and the desire they have to succeed; and they deserve the opportunity to do so in whatever capacity they choose. I have realized that my words matter and have impact. Your students will soak everything in that you say, so make sure it’s something worth saying and something with intent and impact that align with your mission. Institute has opened my eyes to the intense barriers our students will face, and has given me the starter-pack of tools to start breaking those down.

As institute comes to an end, I look back to when we first got to institute and were introduced to the GRIND culture that TFA Memphis lives by. We took those values and I can say with confidence I have seen every single one manifest in myself and others.

We GRINDed all through institute and now, it’s time to show our GRIT as TFA Memphis 2017 corp members. As we go into our first year as teachers, our Memphis GRIT is what will set us apart from other corps and set us up for success.

G: GIVE A LITTLE TO GET A LITTLE. The relationships we build as teachers, with our students, employees, and administrators, are mutual relationships. Never expect respect, earn it. Elitism has no place in this corp, and no place in this fight.  

R: RESIST THE NARRATIVE We must resist the narrative about ourselves as first year TFA teachers, resist the narrative about our students, and resist the narrative about our communities. We cannot change the education system if we let the narrative dictate our decisions and outlook and it’s very easy to retreat to the narrative when something isn’t working if we’ve only ever tried the status quo.

I: INCITE THE CHANGE. Never think that the change can’t be started with one of us, it only takes one voice to start a movement. Speak up, be a megaphone for our students, and bring the passion you have shown these last 6 weeks into your classrooms for a different and better tomorrow.

T: TEACH BEYOND THE CLASSROOM. Help our students see the real-world connection their education can have and the importance it carries. Don’t shy away from difficult conversations with our students. Be the teacher that changes school for them or be the teacher you wish you had.

As we come to the end of institute, remember that one person alone cannot make a difference, and one person cannot stop a movement. This is not only my fight or your fight, it is our fight. We are one corp, one city, and one organization fighting for one cause. We are only as strong as our weakest and will find strength and success in collaboration, support, and innovation. Reach out, connect, and be a center for support. Never forget what, and more importantly who you are fighting for. I have no doubt this corp will be agents of change, will create ripples throughout Memphis, and will take us one step closer to an equitable education system. When faced with a hard day of teaching, because we all know they’re going to come, don’t ask yourself what did I do wrong, ask yourself how can I be better tomorrow and show up for my kids every single day.

Congratulations again and I cannot wait to see the transformative teachers we all become. Thank you!