In May of 2021, I was eagerly anticipating both my graduation from college and the start of my Teach for America (TFA) journey. While I was passionate and ready to jump into the work that I would be doing in my region of Chattanooga, I was daunted by my move from my home in Pennsylvania to Tennessee. Other than my partner, who was also in my incoming corps year, we did not have any community in Chattanooga.
The first few months of TFA on-boarding were a whirlwind of getting my footing in the classroom, learning how to construct lesson plans, and determining the school in which I would work, so there was not very much time to create a community in my new home. However, on the first day of school, I received a knock on my door after I had released my students to lunch. The knock came from a second-year TFA corps member who taught down the hall from me. She asked if I wanted to have lunch with her as she, too, understood what it was like to be a first-year corps member and the learning curve that came for a person in our position. While TFA gave me support over that year in terms of academics, this second-year corps member truly became my mentor in school culture, collaboration, and community-building within education.
With the lived experience that I had from my school and hearing other corps members talk about the relationships that they had with other TFA teachers from their schools, it became apparent to us that there was a need to create a mentorship program. The goal of TFA is to create a future in which all students have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. To do this, however, we must also create a community that values excellent education and works collaboratively to strive for reform and growth.
When TFA Nashville-Chattanooga announced in the spring of 2023 that they were launching a mentorship program, now known as Chatt Connect, between current corps members and TFA alumni, I was beyond excited because I knew the opportunities that the program could create for both new teachers within our community and alumni who work in many diverse careers throughout Chattanooga. I was in a unique position as a corps member because becoming an alumnus at the same time that the program was launching meant that I could have the opportunity to have both a first-year corps member mentee and a mentor who was further into alumnihood. I chose to sign up as a mentor because I knew that I could speak to what it is like to be a new teacher within our community. Due to the positive impact that the second-year corps member had on my first year as a teacher, I always try to go out of my way to become a point of connection and support for new teachers on my team and in my school, and I knew this would be a perfect way to establish a community for my first-year mentee. I also chose to become a mentee because I understand the importance of connections within our community both professionally and personally.
In just the first six months of Chatt Connect, I am already seeing the positive community-building that this program supports. I have gotten the opportunity to have conversations about the diverse perspectives that both first-year teachers and 20-year educational professionals bring to the table as they discuss their passions and visions for education and the broader community of Chattanooga. We have identified educational and social gaps within our community and are actively working towards closing them. And, above all, we have given each other a space to connect with other visionaries and leaders about TFA’s fundamental visions and goals for communities. These spaces and conversations are what build collaboration in a community and create a place where education is held at the forefront of growth.