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VOL. 133 | NO. 183 | Friday, September 14, 2018

Kingsbury Teacher Finds Beauty in Memphis and Education

By Anna Cox Thompson, Special to The Daily News

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Taylor Cao is a teacher at Kingsbury High School.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for Taylor Cao, a teacher at Kingsbury High School, his love of Memphis is nothing short of beautiful.

Born and raised in East Tennessee, Cao says he’d always had his eye on Memphis. Call it foreshadowing or an urban kid’s interest in the scrappy picture others paint of the Bluff City, but he wanted in.

“I was born and raised in Knoxville, and I guess Memphis was always the ‘ugly child’ of Tennessee,” he explains. “I never understood why people were hating on Memphis so much. Then I moved to Nashville, which is the diva of Tennessee in terms of what they think about Memphis. When I got to Memphis in May of 2015, I felt like if anything, that narrative should be flipped because Memphis is awesome. I’ve lived in all three cities, and Memphis is by far my favorite.

“There’s something about this city that has grit to it. I know its very cliché for me to say ‘grit and grind,’ but there’s something about a city where there’s such an underdog story. The best example is one I’ve heard over the years: ‘People move to Nashville to see what they can get. People move to Memphis to give what they can.’ I can’t say enough how great this city is.”

Though Cao initially moved to Memphis thinking his career would go one direction, he quickly realized education was the path for him. He was introduced to David Montague, executive director of Memphis Teacher Residency, and everything started to fall into place.

“What really drew me was their mission as far as being gospel-centered. They wanted to love on the kids of Memphis. I met my wife, who is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, through MTR, and we’re both teachers. We both love this city a lot and are very thankful to call this place home.”

For many teachers, being an educator is far more than simply teaching a subject year after year, and Cao is no exception. He has seen first-hand the benefits that solid education and influential mentors provide.

“For me, choosing education as a profession was a God thing,” he says. “I enjoy being around kids and teenagers, and I was an urban kid myself. I grew up with a single mom who raised three boys, and I had a teacher who really invested a lot of time in me. In middle school I had two choices – I could ether go to the school I was zoned for or the nice private school.

“For some reason this teacher kept pushing me and I applied and got in with financial aid. It was a huge leap for me. It was a great education, but it was shell-shocked with the change. That change made me realize how important education is. Without my high school experience, I wouldn’t have gone to college or gotten the scholarships I did.

“In turn, if I could be that kind of influence on someone I would like to, especially as a male educator. In no way, shape or form do I expect to be a father figure, but I hope to show a positive example and show that men can do something other than dribble a ball, throw a football or rap if they want to. There are other paths.”

Taylor Cao is a graduate of New Memphis’ Embark program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.

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