Teachers Need Teachers Too! An interview with TFA Coach Elana Curry

Many school networks and systems now have teacher coaches. It’s kind of like middle management in the education world and a much needed layer of support for teacher teams! Not only might you find a teacher with a school coach, but you might find a Teach For America (TFA) Corps Member who also has a TFA Coach! We took a minute to interview TFA’s Elana Curry and get to know about her career and what she’s seeing as a coach of teachers amidst a pandemic.

Q1: Where did you grow up, and how did you get inspired to work in education?

I grew up as the child of military parents, so I moved around quite a bit. I’ve lived in Memphis for 16 years now, which is twice as long as any other place I’ve lived.  So, I consider it home! I feel as if it was always in me to eventually be a teacher because I come from a family of educators. Though I wasn’t planning to teach right after college, I now see that it was the best decision for me! I started teaching in Memphis out of the desire to find a “better job” at the time, and I’ve remained in education ever since. I knew I was called to it.

Q2: At what point as a classroom teacher did it dawn on you that you could coach other teachers?

It was during my 6th year of teaching when I started to realize I had a fondness for training and developing others.  During that time, I was in a position where I was not only teaching full time, but I was also responsible for ensuring that the new teachers were trained on our school’s culture and academic expectations.  At the same time, I was finishing a masters program that focused on the professional development of teachers.  It all seemed like the perfect recipe for a transition in my career.  At the end of my 7th year of teaching, I decided to leave the classroom and coach other teachers across the city through TFA, which would give me the opportunity to expand my impact to more than just one classroom.

Q3: How pivotal are the many resources that TFA teachers have available to them?

The resources are meant to be a valuable addition to whatever a TFA teacher is already getting from his or her school.  Those resources can be as technical as a set of key instructional skills that a teacher needs, whether teaching virtually or in-person. On the other hand, they can be as broad as a support network of other teachers who are having similar experiences and motivations. We also resource our teachers by cultivating essential mindsets in order to effectively teach during such uncertain times. What we’ve found is that all three are necessary for them to have a successful school year. 

Q4: What kinds of things have you seen teachers pick up during virtual learning that have you excited for when you go back to in-person learning? Ideas they might not have had if it were not for virtual learning?

An increased sense of awareness is one of the biggest things I’ve seen teachers pick up during virtual learning.  Because of our national climate, our regional context, and their on-the-job training, teachers are gaining a much wider perspective on so many barriers that are preventing our students from achieving. It has caused them to become more compassionate for their students’ circumstances and has given them the drive to think outside the box to reach their goals this school year. 

Q5: How does Elana Curry best enjoy Memphis?

I love to eat, so trying out restaurants around the city is probably my favorite thing to do! There are so many hidden gems in Memphis, and I get to switch up my appetite depending on the company I’m with! My personal favorite restaurants are Jim & Nick’s BBQ, Cracker Barrel (although I like Cracker Barrel in any city lol) and I just discovered Saltwater Crab in Midtown!