My second year in the classroom, I was extremely lucky to get the opportunity to participate in a research project around mentoring teachers of color. This research project gave me several hours to spend with a mentor reflecting on my classroom practice and participating in a focus group to discuss issues facing teachers of color. We also discussed the particulars of what is needed for the mentor-teacher relationship.
During these sessions my mentor always began by checking in with me about where I was in my work. She listened to what was on my mind, heard my goals, and asked me genuine and interesting follow up questions. I want to share about one session that stands out to illustrate what I believe a good mentor does.
One day she came to my classroom for an observation. While she was observing our school went on lockdown. If I remember correctly the lockdown was long and intense. Students didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on. In the tension of the moment I decided to have a community circle with my students to process what was happening. My mentor thought to turn on the recorder. I cant remember as I write this post exactly how I opened the conversation, but I do remember all the students sharing stories of their nights at home listening to gun shots both far and near, sharing about not being able to play outside late, stories of violence hit way too close to home. Listening to these students triggered a memory I had of gun shots in the neighborhood I lived in, the same neighborhood in which I currently teach. I shared with students my story of being laid down in a huddle in the back of the car with my sister. My mother comforted us from the front seat where she lay. An altercation had taken place at the restaurant where we were getting dinner and escalated all too quickly. I shared my feelings and fears, but then my hopes. I explained to students my hope for changing things. I spoke to them about possibility, about education being the door opener to change. Even though I share it now as if it was a lecture, it was very much a conversation filled with agreement and interjection.
Once the lockdown was lifted, and students escorted safely to their families, I met with my mentor for our session. She asked me several reflective questions about the decisions I’d made. I distinctly remember her genuine understand of the difficultly of the situated, however she named that she as a white woman with a certain kind of privilege hadn’t had the same kind of experience in the situation as me. She did not make it a pity party, she didn’t turn it into a conversation about her. She acknowledged her difference and opened up a space for me to process my thinking. She listened. I talked. In this conversation she helped me name my beliefs about teaching. During our conversation, I surfaced philosophies, my philosophies, and how they connected to my pedagogy. She helped me understand how often the decisions we make as teachers are in the moment, but they are grounded by what we believe. She helped me see the agency my students and I had in such a vulnerable situation.
To this day I call on her when I need someone to help me think through something. I talk. She listens. She nudges. I clarify. She suggests. I decide. She coaches from the passenger side. I drive.
Thank You Carrie!