Founding KIPPsters Come Back to the Classroom and Find Their Career Path

Just four years ago, Brie Smith, 22, and Alec Eldridge, 22,  were making history as they walked across the stage as members of KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School’s first graduating senior class. 

Now with college degrees in hand, the two Memphis natives have returned to their hometown and their KIPP family as classroom teachers at KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary in South Memphis. 

We caught up with the two of them between classes to chat about why they chose to come back to Memphis, how teaching has helped them launch their career journey and their thoughts on what it feels like to be the teacher instead of the student. 

Brie Smith, 22

KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School, Class of 2015

Furman University, Class of 2019

First Grade Co-Teacher

KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary

You were a part of KIPP’s first graduating high school class. How was that experience?

Overall, I had a great experience at KIPP. It was hard when we started in high school because it was a new school and we were the founding class. So, each year they added a class after us. So, we got the struggles. We struggled but the best part was the team and family. That’s not just something that they say but they live by it. The relationships that I’ve made are lifetime. It doesn’t even feel like I’ve been out of high school for as long as I have been because I’ve been in touch with my high school principal, my KIPP-Through-College Advisors, and all my friends from high school. It’s like I haven’t left. They’re just my family.

Tell me more about the KIPP-Through-College program and how it helped you decide what you were going to do once you graduated.

I remember meeting my KIPP-Through-College Advisor by my ninth grade year. She was new and she was new to Memphis. She came in and came in by storm! I remember telling her ‘I don’t want to go to college.’ She was like ‘Girl, you are going to be the valedictorian. How are you telling me you don’t want to go to college?’ But I ended up going to a pre-college program that summer. I went to a boarding school in Connecticut for six weeks. That experience changed my whole outlook! I met so many different people. There were a whole lot of international students. Now, I was shell-shocked! I went by myself…that was my first time on a plane. I was one of the only black kids and I was low-income. I remember calling my mom and telling her ‘I want to come home! I can’t do this!’ But six weeks later, I didn’t want to leave. I knew then that, okay, this is the experience I want to have once I graduate high school. 

You’re a first-year teacher but you are in a co-teaching partnership with an experienced teacher, Jamar Wright. How has it been to be paired with an experienced teacher and watch him teach?

I was really excited when I found out I was going to be paired with a black male teacher because I couldn’t remember many black male teachers, especially in my early education. When I met him he just lived up to all my expectations! It’s really great to see how he works with the kids and how his relationships are so strong with the students. I’ve learned so much from him — he’s just great!

You’ve had just a few months in the classroom. Do you want to stay in education? What’s next for you?

I know I eventually want to do pre-college counseling. It would be my dream to work with KIPP-Through-College. That’s the work that impacted me so strongly. That’s what I’ve grown to be the most passionate about. I spent most of my time in college working with incoming students and mentoring them and helping them to adjust to college. I think I’ve figured out that’s what I want to be in education. I want to work with students and teach them how to get to where they want to be. So, that’s my end goal: I want to work in college counseling. 

Do you want to stay in Memphis?

Memphis is home. I enjoyed my years away from Memphis. I feel like I grew into the person that I am because I got to go away and be in a different space by myself. But Memphis is home it’s where my family is. I can’t see myself anywhere else. After living in different cities and in different places, Memphis is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s just enough city and just enough quiet. I just love the people here. As much as I love my friends from other places, Memphis just gives a different type of love. 

I always give folks I interview the last word. Anything you’d like to add?

Education is one of the most important things a person can have. We need good teachers. It’s really something that someone has to be passionate about. You have to have the heart for it. You have to be dedicated. You have to realize what you can and cannot do. That’s the stage that I am in right now. I’ve realized I want to be in education but I just might not be a teacher and that’s okay. If you know that you’re a strong teacher, be that teacher. But if you know you could be that strong counselor, be that! That’s what’s going to make the education system better. 

Alec Eldridge, 22

KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School, Class of 2015

Hiram College, Class of 2019 

Physical Education Co-Teacher

KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary

Tell me a little bit about your journey through KIPP. 

My KIPP days were very interesting. While I was at KIPP, I was in the top 5% academically. I did two sports. I played football and ran track. Being a founding class at KIPP, I feel like we had so many expectations placed on us. We were really setting the groundwork and really paving the way. It’s cool going back and seeing my name on the wall. 

Wait– your name is on the wall at the high school?

Yup, they have the class of 2015 and everyone that graduated college in 2019 — like Brie and myself — on the wall. 

I know it’s only been a few months into teaching, but what’s been your best teaching moment?

My favorite moments are when kids do something they haven’t done before. In P.E., I’ll have kids say ‘Coach, can you help me shoot a basketball?’ and they shoot a basketball and they make one. It’s just fun to see them doing that. 

You’re from Memphis. What made you decide to come back after college?

Being from Memphis, I love the city. There’s a lot of the city that I carried with me. When I went to college that was my nickname. They called me “Memphis.” Because I was always like ‘Yeah, we got that in Memphis! It’s better back home!’ What made me want to come back is my passion for coaching. I really want to help kids in the athletic realm. I went up there to college and got a lot of knowledge. And I feel like bringing that back can help the kids here to get out, explore the world and make their own lives. 

What made you consider teaching? Do you see yourself staying in education?

Teaching wasn’t really a route I saw myself going into because my major was Integrated Exercise Science. I see myself being more of a strength coach in the future. People would always say though ‘Oh, you’re going to be a P.E. teacher’ and I was like nope but here I am. I do love the kids. I love helping kids and making them become better. 

I want to be the head strengthening and conditioning coach somewhere. I coach right now for the middle school. I coach football and I also do boys and girls basketball. In the spring, I’ll be doing track.  I have this proposition that I am going to propose to the CEO of KIPP. That’s still in the works! I also plan to get my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist license. It’s the most widely recognized strength and conditioning certification. It’s a $500 test, so I need to make sure I have all of my information, but I feel confident about it!

For recent graduates who are considering teaching as a career path, what advice would you give them?

Be prepared. Always be ready to be on your toes. You always have to react. It’s going to be different every day. But if you have love for the kids if you have any type of passion for it it will be easier. I look at the good more than the bad, definitely. But don’t think it will be that easy! Teaching is a lot. Teaching is a lot more than you initially think! When I first came to do my interview, I thought I would just have five classes but I have a 7:15 arrival post, I have two recess duties, I have a dismissal post. So, you’ve just got to be ready! 

You get the last word. What would you like to add?

I’m thankful for Principal Bailey for giving me the opportunity and for my co-teacher, Coach Kelly, who has really guided me through what I need to know.  

Learn about opportunities at KIPP Memphis schools at and find even more opportunities to make a difference in our city’s classrooms on the Teach901 Job Board.

Guest post by Ashley Davis Executive Director of Kifani Press 

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