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My mentor teacher was a six-foot two-inch Black Male, who exuded confidence, creativity, and a command of a room I envied on so many levels. He described himself as an Ex-Black Panther “intimate” different than a member, an “intellectual free-raider” who made sure he “always lived to fight another day”.  My mentor was a self-proclaimed “wolf”, who epitomized the fierce, protective, and regal spirit of one who shared his expertise with me like the father figure he became.  I only had one year with him as a colleague, but our relationship has since spanned two decades.  I often still seek him out for advice on everything from the personal, to professional, to the prophetic.  He is a constant source of wisdom about the continued shifts in education.  My mentor used to call me his “muse”, but I doubt he understands the tremendous impact he had, and continues to play, in my development as a teacher.  He modeled teaching the “classics” while showing me how to infuse music into current and relevant lessons.  He showed me the importance of teaching “the basics”, while skillfully, and almost seductively, enticing astute critical analysis out of students who never thought they had it in them.  I would not on behalf of the teacher I am today without him.  

“I’ll also throw this out there: Newer teachers can be mentors, too. Mentorship does not have to be based on seniority over another—it can also be about those who can help us rise in our practice and in our spirit. It isn’t all about content area and pedagogical expertise; it’s also about attitude and leadership” (Wolpert-Gawron, Edutopia, 5/27/2018). 

I have the privilege of working with a twenty-six-year-old, Asian female, who is a third-year physics teacher.  She fits the above description to a tee.  She is an incredible educator and one that I learn from daily.  I remember having her seemingly boundless amount of energy, wide-eyed look at the thought of endless possibilities, and seemingly never-ending creativity when it comes to her craft when I first started teaching.  What I do not remember is being so “woke”.  People tend to throw that word around a lot these days, so I will define what I mean when I use it.  She is hyper-aware of current events, issues surrounding both equality and equity, and has not only a purposeful approach to diversity but an anti-racist lens when it comes to teaching that I could not even fathom having when I entered education twenty years ago.  Now, some could argue that the current state of the world has given us so much more to pay attention to when it comes to political unrest, divisiveness, hate, microaggressions, and blatant racism.  Be that as it may, this young teacher has mentored me in ways she might not even be conscious of.  There is something about having a colleague that is more than just a person to vent to, but one that is always willing to collaborate, one who steps up and is always willing to lend a hand, and one that takes the reigns on things that are so important to the betterment of the school, but ones that you know you also do not have the bandwidth to take on.  She is, in a word, a Godsend.  I am a co-sponsor of the New Teacher Mentor Group at our school, and it is there that I met this gem of a teacher.  Trust and believe, the mentee has become the mentor!

“I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances” (Nelson Mandela).

How much more extraordinary could the circumstances get than what we have just experienced?  I am almost afraid to type that.  In reality, we have all become leaders and mentors in some way.  We will all help to lead a generation of students who have never even set foot in a brick-and-mortar school, some who missed most of their middle school experience, and some who have no idea how to transition to high school.  We will help to lead them into a new era of education I doubt anyone is truly prepared for.  As we prepare to mentor our students, we need to become mentors to our fellow educators as well.  A fundamental aspect of mentoring is simply to provide encouragement.  We need to make sure to encourage the second-year teachers who cannot believe they made it through their first year, that they are indeed cut out for education.  We need to encourage those near retirement that they can make it to their goals without giving up years earlier than they planned.  And we need to encourage ourselves.  Look to those we are mentoring and think about what we can learn from them.  As lifelong learners, let us make sure not to overlook the benefits of mentoring that come out of a genuine relationship built from the mentoring process.  Mentoring truly should always become a two-way street! 

I encourage all teachers to find that work-bestie that you can not only lean on in the hard times but one that inspires you as you inspire them.  Leaders may not always come from the “seasoned” veterans, but from all teachers who made it through the incredible “shifts,” we were forced into this past year and a half.  From the new to the teacher with decades under their belts, we can learn from everyone’s experience, and struggles, during our time distance learning.  This post-pandemic world of education we are about to embark on will require a re-imagining of the world of teacher mentorship just like every other change we hope to birth, and sustain, in education.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr). 

As we navigate the unknowns of what is to come, let us focus on teacher mentorship, learning to lean on each other in our efforts to continue to demonstrate courage in the face of the adversities education inevitably throws our way.

Michele Lamons-Raiford is a hearing American Sign Language (ASL) and English teacher at Pinole Valley...

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1 Comment

  1. Ms. Lamons-you are such an impressive writer, with great insight as to what really matters. I absolutely enjoyed this article and believe every word you wrote. Thank you for continuing to share your wisdom and wealth of information.

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