#Celebratelu: Celebrating my first (accidental) mentor

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

In my first year of teaching, I would cross paths with the Kindergarteners in my building and think to myself: I can never do that!  Please, gods of teacher placement, don’t ever make me do that!  When I found a permanent position the following year as a sixth grade teacher, I sent those gods fervent prayers of thanks.  Kindergarten teachers, in my estimation, are a special breed of super teachers requiring reverence and thanks from the rest of us…especially Kindergarten teachers like Kristine Mraz, whose books and Twitter feed are a constant source of teaching inspiration.  Last week, Kristine Tweeted this:

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The thinking within these Tweets resonated with me, because this has been my teaching journey as well. I became a much better teacher when I stepped back and focused on what I would need to do to help my kids develop the strengths and skills they would  need long after they had left my classroom –  strengths and skills built on a foundation of relationships and care.  Giving genuine eye contact, being able to sit knee to knee and really listen, waiting to be invited into their thinking instead of jumping in to offer my own, allowing my own voice to be in the background instead of the foreground…these are quiet teaching moves, not the bells and whistles and teacher-centric sort of teaching that we think we need for student engagement.

Kristine’s Tweet took me back to my first teaching mentor – an accidental mentor.  She is Marcia Kaiser, my children’s kindergarten teacher.  The year my son was lucky enough to be in her class, I had signed on as a reading volunteer.  Twice a week, I popped into Ben’s classroom to read to anyone who wished to be read to.  Three years later, when Olivia entered Mrs. Kaiser’s Kindergarten, I signed on again.  But this time was different, because I had decided to get my certification and become a teacher, too.

I took note of how the kids were always purposeful and engaged, how her 25 little ones knew their routines and looked forward to them with quiet anticipation, how there was always a steady hum of activity with Marcia in the background providing a steady and supportive presence.  I took note of the warmth of  her interactions with her students, the respect with which she answered questions no matter how big or small.  And I took note of how different her classroom looked and sounded from the kindergarten next door; you could always tell which kids had come through a year with Mrs. Kaiser.

It took me a long time to figure out how to recreate in Room 202 what I’d seen in Marcia’s teaching; to understand the hard work, deep thinking, and discipline it took to teach like that, and to choreograph a classroom like that.  She was my first mentor, my accidental mentor because my purpose in her classroom was to simply read to a few children, but the one whose lessons were the richest and most lasting.  This week, I celebrate Marcia Kaiser.



8 thoughts on “#Celebratelu: Celebrating my first (accidental) mentor

  1. I love your idea of an ‘accidental mentor’, but also know that it means you have watched and noted ideas and acts that mean something to you as a teacher. It counts a lot for teachers, and others to watch others and choose what to “be”. And I love the idea of “quiet teaching moves”. That makes the noticing harder, but no less important, right? Enjoy the rest of this Sunday, Tara!

  2. Those accidental mentors can be such powerful ones! I also work towards that authenticity (that’s what I have been thinking of it as) in my teaching. I find that kids can tell when we are real. 🙂

  3. This is such a great post. It is so powerful to really think back to how someone really influenced your thinking without either of you intending that purpose. I love the thinking in the tweets too. Thanks for sharing those here.

  4. I’ve always been in awe of kindergarten teachers. I loved being the book fairy to Ms. Webb (kindergarten teacher extraordinaire to both my children). She would tell me her upcoming topics and I would fill her bookshelves with books for the upcoming weeks. When I started subbing after retirement, I said, “Anywhere except kindergarten. That takes a very special skill set.”

  5. What a great celebration post you wrote, Tara. This line stood out for me: “Allowing my own voice to be in the background instead of the foreground”. I wonder why so many voices must be heard instead of following what you note as good practice? May we all benefit from the mentorship you witnessed.

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