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A three-year secret relationship, three TFA marriages, and other love stories from school

(Photo illustration by Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat)
(Photo illustration by Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat)

This Valentine’s Day, Chalkbeat is looking at some of the love stories that launch in teachers’ lounges, professional development sessions, and after-school happy hours every year. Catch up on the first set of stories here and submit your own.

Sally Jenkins-Stevens and Alex MacIver

The setting: Sally and Alex met in 2007 when she joined Bronx Lab School, where Alex had been teaching for two years. Sally was a math special education teacher who had previously done Teach For America in St. Louis, and Alex, who had started as a NYC Teaching Fellow, also taught math. They were assigned as collaborative team teachers, meaning that they planned and taught a ninth-grade algebra and physics class together.

The mood: As co-teachers, the pair spent a ton of time together even before the school year began. They started dating after only a couple of weeks — but decided to keep their relationship a secret from colleagues and students. That secret lasted for three years, until Sally left the school.

Alex: “We were really conscious/aware of/concerned about how people might interpret our professional words and actions differently if there was this added layer of our relationship. For better or worse we chose to eliminate that story line.”

Sally: “We were so diligent about keeping the secret, we would get off at different subway stops to go to work so co-workers wouldn’t see us come in together. Sunday nights we would talk about who got to tell which story from the weekend so that our stories never overlapped. We even staggered taking in leftovers for lunch so nobody was left wondering why we each had the exact same left over lasagna for lunch. … Maybe we took it a little overboard.”

A story: One day early in their relationship and school year, the pair had finished the first part of a lesson and were deciding what to do next. “Should we break up?” Sally asked Alex. She meant, “Should we split the class up into groups and each take some?” But that’s not what Alex heard. After an uncomfortable moment of confusion, they divided the class — and stayed together.

The update: The pair left New York in 2011 for high schools in San Francisco and married in 2013. Sally now works for a nonprofit that supports community schools development and Alex works with a nonprofit education consulting group. “Both of those careers have taken a copilot seat with the job of trying to raise two amazing/challenging/beautiful/exhausting twins who are coming up on their second birthday in June,” Sally says.

Elisa Villanueva Beard and Jeremy Beard

The setting: The pair met in 2000 at Teach For America’s summer training institute in Houston. Elisa was a Teach For America alumna from the 1998 Phoenix corps, and he was an alumnus from the 1995 Los Angeles corps. Each was working with TFA and helping to train new teachers over the summer.

“Another friend of mine who was working as a corps member advisor that summer also met his future partner at that institute,” Elisa recalls. “There must have been something in the air.”

The mood: A few days before new teachers arrived, Jeremy and Elisa were assigned to put together binders for them. Jeremy tried to finish the work faster than Elisa. “I remember thinking, ‘This guy is really competitive,'” Elisa recalls. “That was the first sign of compatibility between two former athletes.” The pair nurtured their mutual crush all summer, then became a couple after spending time together one on one at the end-of-summer staff party.

A story: Elisa was working in her home community, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, as an executive director for Teach For America when Jeremy moved to the region, eventually building out the first IDEA Public High School in Donna, Texas — an International Baccalaureate school — as its principal. “To date, Jeremy has had almost 20 of his students join Teach For America, which provides both of us with incredible full-circle moments,” Elisa says. “There’s nothing like watching our very own students leading this effort we have dedicated our lives to.”

The update: Both still work in education — and Elisa is still at Teach For America, now as the CEO. Jeremy is the head of schools at YES College Prep, a charter school network, after working as a principal, administrator in the Houston school district, and a leader of a school turnaround nonprofit. They married in 2004 and have four sons.

“They are brilliant, curious, hilarious, demanding, and loving. Our children know that Jeremy and I have a deep commitment to ensuring all children have a great school to attend, and that the current state of lack of access and opportunity to the most marginalized children in our nation is not fair or acceptable,” Elisa says. “And if you ask them why Mommy has to travel three days a week, they will share, ‘Mommy wants to make sure all kids have a great school to go to.'”

Stephanie and Jules Lippman

The setting: It was 1977 at P.S. 111 in the Bronx. Stephanie had been laid off from the New York City schools in 1975 amid sweeping budget cuts, and she had just been rehired as a sixth-grade teacher. Jules had been “excessed” to the school after his position at another school was cut. He was teaching third grade.

The mood: The city teachers union played a key role in their relationship. Jules was the union leader for P.S. 111, and he recruited Stephanie to join a committee of teachers advising him.

A story: After marrying, the pair worked in side-by-side classrooms for 27 years, mostly at a Bronx middle school where they taught the same students. “We arrived at the school each morning where we were constantly greeted by, ‘Don’t you two ever fight? We want to see a real good one,’” Stephanie recalls. “They could not get over the fact that our professional relationship is totally different from our marriage,”

The update: Both retired from teaching, but Stephanie now works as a coach for the city Department of Education. They have five grandchildren. “We do everything together and are very comfortable with that,” Stephanie says. “After all, we spent all our days together at work.”

Grace Loew and Kent Hansan

The setting: Kent and Grace first saw each other at Teach For America’s summer training institute in 2005, but they didn’t get to know each other until after the school year started. Then, Grace invited a friend from the summer training to her birthday party — and he brought his roommate, Kent. It turned out that they lived in the building next to Grace’s in New York.

The mood: Grace wasn’t looking for a boyfriend: She wanted to focus on teaching. “Eventually, he won me over and convinced me we could date and I could still dedicate my life to teaching,” Grace says. They began dating around Thanksgiving 2006, more than a year after meeting.

A story: As an elementary school teacher, Grace spends time every summer setting up her classroom. As a high school teacher, Kent doesn’t have that responsibility — and can help his wife. “One year he spent an entire day sawing out a slanted shelf from a built-in cabinet so I could use it for my library,” Grace recalls. “Turns out the shelf was not only firmly held in place by grooves, but it was also nailed in on all four sides. He had to do it again when I changed rooms.”

The update: The pair married in 2011, and both are still in the classroom now. Grace teaches first grade at a progressive public school in Brooklyn, and Kent teaches math at KIPP NYC College Prep High School in the South Bronx. Together, they’re raising two wonderful little boys and beginning to navigate the city school system as parents. “Because we are both educators, we know the value of structure and routine for all children, including our own,” Grace says. “We are definitely on the same parenting page.”

Andrew Hoskins and Anne Ryckebusch

The setting: Anne and Andy met at Half Moon Bay High School, in Marin County north of San Francisco, in the fall of 2003. Anne had been working in local schools, which her daughters attended, since the 1990s. Andy was a new hire after getting a job offer by phone because he could teach both history and algebra.

The mood: The two began spending more time together after they found themselves simultaneously single in 2005. Andy escalated the relationship by visiting Anne’s classroom to ask her to be his valentine in 2006. Their first date was a hike on which Anne unnerved Andy by foraging him wild plants.

A story: Students find Andy and Anne’s husband-and-wife teacher relationship amusing and cute, Andy reports. “We get along great in and out of school, although I cringe in the lunch room sometimes when she scolds me for eating unhealthy food now and then in front of the other teachers, who just crack up,” he says.

The update: The pair married in 2012, giving Andy “two awesome step-daughters” and, later, a grandchild. Both still teach at Half Moon Bay High School.

Carrie and Kevin McCormack

The setting: Carrie was in her second year at East Bronx Academy and her 13th year teaching in 2008 when Kevin McCormack, a newly minted music teacher, joined the staff. At their first staff meeting, their principal asked everyone talk to someone new, and they wound up together.

The mood: Kevin started asking Carrie out in the fall of 2009. “He was very persistent,” she recalls — but she assumed their 14-year age gap would be a problem. She finally agreed to meet him for a drink in October; by April they had effectively moved in together.

A story: Carrie was teaching in the library, and Kevin started visiting more often. Finally, a student asked whether they were dating. When they learned the answer, they were initially distressed. “The boys were more appalled because [Kevin] was so short,” Carrie says. “Age never fazed them because all teachers are old.”

Joking aside, Carrie said students have taken to citing her and Kevin in their “#goals.” “It’s really good for them to see a healthy relationship,” she says. “So many of them don’t see a genuinely good one.”

The update: Carrie is still at East Bronx Academy, where she has added college and career advising to her resume. Frustrated that he could not build a more robust music program, Kevin left the school last fall for a career in computer programming.

“The day I went back to school and he wasn’t there, it was weird,” Carrie says. “I came home and it was like, ‘How was your day? I think that’s what we we’re supposed to do.’”

Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth

The setting: In the summer of 1989, a couple of months after Richard had graduated from college, his mother read an article about what Wendy was doing with Teach For America, then in its infancy. “She suggested I see if I could help,” he recalls.

The mood: The pair didn’t become a couple until after working together for five years. “It was love at first sight,” Richard says. “We just didn’t realize it. But after five years of working together, it dawned on both of us at the same time.”

A story: Wendy almost didn’t hire Richard. In fact, when he called back to see how his interview went, she barely remembered him and told the person who answered the phone that she would not be moving forward with hiring him. The message didn’t get relayed. Soon after, in a desperate hiring bind, the organization asked him to start working with three days’ notice.

The update: After growing Teach For America, Wendy left in 2013 to focus on Teach For All, a global network of teacher recruitment and training organizations like Teach For America. Richard is CEO of the KIPP network of charter schools. They’re raising four children together, and they still bond over their shared career choices. Says Richard: “What’s more fun than going out on a Saturday night and talking shop?”

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