Cara Vendeville Leads New Leaders at Teach for America

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When Cara Vendeville was little, her brother was littler. One day, in the family’s home in Cleveland, Ohio, Vendeville and her brother decided to play a game of school. Most kids might have lost interest and wandered off to some more exciting activity, with better toys. Vendeville, determined, set to work writing lesson plans.

Now manager of matriculation and licensure for Teach For America – Memphis, Vendeville looked up to teachers. She remembers one in particular, a fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Pitrelli. He helped her discover her confidence, even encouraged her to run for class president. She went from a shy child to a confident extrovert, she believes thanks to his guidance.

Years later, upon finding Mr. Pitrelli on Facebook, Vendeville thanked him for being “the reason I became a teacher.”

Vendeville majored in early childhood and special education at Wittenberg University, in Springfield, Ohio. She entered the profession already certified – and already certain she was stepping into the career where she could fulfill her own goals while fulfilling a larger purpose.

“I wanted to teach where I was most needed – and where I would be surrounded by a community that fueled my desire to make change,” she recounts.

She applied to join Teach For America, and on her list of preferences, checked Memphis as a priority location.

“Memphis is a hub for education reform,” she says, “and when I connected with TFA corps members in Memphis, I heard their passion – and it aligned with mine.”

Vendeville moved to Memphis one day after graduating college. She had never stepped foot within Shelby County before arriving with a moving truck.

“The potential in Memphis was so evident, so there, that I was willing to take a leap of faith. I knew it would result in impact for students.”

Teach For America’s mission is to improve educational outcomes for all children in Memphis by recruiting and developing leaders who will help reimagine public education. First, corps members commit to teach for a minimum of two years in low-income schools. TFA trains them to ensure they lead their students to success, and continues to support them as they pursue a variety of leadership roles both within and beyond the classroom as alumni of the program.

Since the organization launched its mission nationally in 1990, some 42,000 corps members – often but not always recent college graduates – have been placed in classrooms.

TFA – Memphis corps members currently teach in classrooms in Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, and a range of independent charter school networks. Some 300 teachers are currently in the two-year program, joining the ranks of 1,500 Memphis-area TFA alumni.

Vendeville was placed at Frayser’s Lucie E. Campbell Elementary School, part of Shelby County’s Innovation Zone. She taught prekindergarten in her first year, first grade in her second – “I had some of the older siblings in that class,” she smiles.

“Parents were there, showing up,” she remembers. “If you provide access, they’re willing to show up for their kids – and for you as a teacher.”

Leaving the classroom was never Vendeville’s intention; she says she would not have transitioned out of the classroom for any role other than the one she occupies today. She now relishes the chance to work with new TFA applicants to “help them imagine themselves in this work, and believe in themselves to be the change-makers we need.”

Throughout the on-boarding process, Vendeville walks alongside new teachers, working with them to develop their skill sets, as well as guiding them through the state of Tennessee’s licensure process. Teach For America – Memphis is “our own certifying body,” minimizing licensure costs and complications for new teachers.

After moving to Memphis sight unseen, driven by the passion she sensed from local educators, Vendeville has come to believe ever more strongly in the city’s potential to lead the charge in education reform.

“Our city is full of optimism, full of passion, to say that ‘yes we can’ – we can do this. Our city is grit and grind. This is difficult work, but Memphians are ready and equipped to take it on.”

Cara Vendeville is a graduate of New Memphis’ Embark program. Learn more about – and nominate a candidate for – Embark today!