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    Women to Watch: Teaching a passion for lifelong Memphian; ticket to improving the city

    Dewanna Lofton - The Commercial Appeal -

    Tamera Malone, 25, left Memphis after high school intent on studying law, becoming a corporate attorney and never living in Memphis again. That all changed at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, after she encountered fellow Memphis City Schools graduates who were not prepared to be successful in college.

    "I was a student assistant for a professor who taught a freshman seminar class for African-American students who had come from Memphis and received the African-American Achievement Scholarship for low-income students," Malone said. "What struck me was that these students were so far behind. That really touched me because I graduated from MCS and felt more than prepared to succeed. I was an optional student and always around students like me. I was shocked that these students from Memphis were not adequately prepared."

    Malone was born and raised in Orange Mound. She graduated from Wooddale High School in 2005. Her passion for Memphis and compassion for fellow city schools students seeking higher education led her to become a teacher.

    "You've got to go to college prepared to succeed or be prepared to leave," she said. "The plight of these students changed my entire direction. I never planned to be a teacher. I was always involved in the community in high school, and in my junior year at UT-Knox I became a Youth Villages mentor to a 10th grade student. These experiences were the beginning of my passion for teaching."

    After graduating with a degree in legal studies, Malone returned to Memphis and got a teaching certificate through Memphis Teaching Fellows. In 2011, she earned a master of arts in teaching from the University of Memphis.

    "I'm in my fourth year of teaching, and I never want to leave Memphis," said Malone, a special education teacher at Kirby High School.

    She volunteers with Stand for Children as a teacher leader organizing teachers, parents and community members to advocate for a better education. Also, she is a member of MPACT Memphis where she serves on the civic engagement committee.

    What is the most challenging thing about your job?

    It's apathy. Education is the most important issue in the country. People don't seem to get how important it is. They are not as invested as I am, and sometimes it is difficult to get people on board with continuously advocating having a solid, strong educational system.

    What is the most rewarding?

    Being able to work with the students. All they need is someone who truly cares, a positive role model. I teach math to special education students. When they get it and I can say I'm part of the reason they get it, that makes me feel really good. I enjoy building relationships and making connections with my students. I think it is important to get to know them and their interests outside of academics. I enjoy sponsoring extracurricular activities in order to help build those relationships. I am the Miss Teen Kirby Pageant sponsor and will be starting a Civic Engagement Club this year to get students involved in the community.

    What else are you passionate about?

    I'm passionate about Memphis. I never planned on coming back, but now I don't ever want to leave. I call myself a Memphis ambassador. I'm very defensive about my hometown. We have a lot of potential. I want to better Memphis, and one way to do that is teaching. I've dedicated my life to education and improving Memphis.

    What is the most significant thing you have done?

    Coming home and giving back to my community. I've been blessed as a child and adult to have an opportunity to do so many great things in high school, college and in my career. I'm trying my hardest to do the best I can and motivate others to pour back into the community I came from.

    If you could change one thing about Memphis, what would it be?

    I would ensure that every student has an opportunity to get a world-class education — effective teachers, resources needed, access to college or trade schools, proper preparation and involved parents.

    In what other ways have you given back to the community?

    Recently, I started a nonprofit called Love Giving Memphis, funded by myself and my boyfriend, Marquis White. Every month, we do something for the community. We sponsored a contest on Twitter and Facebook to recognize a single mom. We did something similar for Father's Day. Also, we've bought school uniforms and supplies for students, and we are organizing a community service event for Ronald McDonald House. Our focus is on youth empowerment, education, poverty and the homeless. I just enjoy it; (it) feels good when I do that.

    What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

    I enjoy outdoor exercise, love nature walking around Shelby Farms, being with family and friends, traveling. Also, I enjoy finding cool events around Memphis to attend, like the summer concert series at Shelby Farms and Maya Angelou at the Cannon Center. I enjoy volunteering in my spare time and being involved in professional and social organizations. And I enjoy eating out at nice and fun restaurants with loved ones laughing and having libations.

    What is your proudest accomplishment?

    Recently, I was selected to be on the National Teachers Advisory Council by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I'm proud someone saw how much I love education and how willing I am to contribute. They flew us out to Seattle for the first meeting in July. It was very inspirational to be a part of a group of teachers from around the county making a significant contribution to education reform.

    What impresses you about yourself?

    I'm very passionate about helping people. Sometimes, it's scary that I care more about others than I do myself, but it's a good quality. If more people had it, we would be a better nation. I feel blessed to have such a giving spirit and being willing to devote my life and career to helping others and improving my city.

    What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

    I would run a successful nonprofit that could reach and help millions of people. Hopefully, my Love Giving Memphis charity will grow to that. Also, I would own and operate a successful restaurant and lounge. I'm really big on customer service and hospitality.

    What is your dream for Memphis?

    For it to live up to its fullest potential. It's a great city. I want an improved education system in Memphis so everyone has the same opportunity to succeed. The economy would improve. People would want to come here to live and start businesses. Education is the gateway to improving all other aspects of Memphis.

    Tamera Malone

    Residence: Cordova.

    Family: Mother, Allison Malone; brother, Garry Malone; grandmother Leann McNary.

    Career highlights: One of 25 teachers selected from 300 local applicants for the 2012 Memphis Teaching Policy Fellowship at Teach Plus; one of 30 teachers selected from around the country to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Teacher Advisory Council.

    What others would be surprised to learn: I enjoy watching reality TV. I watch them all. Also, I’m very adventurous. I’ve done skydiving, and I like rap music.

    If you could give a 30-second speech to Memphis, what would you say?

    I would encourage people to get involved. Do something they enjoy that positively impacts Memphis. If everyone does their part, Memphis would be untouchable.