Reflecting on My Mentors


Although I’ve reached the halfway mark of my residency, each day I spend at PS676 in Red Hook continues to feel just as new and experimental as it did the day I began my training. The students are bright and unpredictable, the perfect brew for insightful lesson planning. The teacher is actively involved in the lesson activities and classroom management. However, it is my mentors’ compassion and fortitude that continue to amaze me each week.

My mentors are Jashua Sa-Ra and Adia Whitaker and their residency focuses on an interwoven exploration of Native American and African folklore through dance and poetry. In November the students were introduced to Gerald McDermott’s award winning illustrated classic “Arrow to the Sun” and taught introductory steps to an Ochosi dance. These activities explored the broader process of setting goals, a theme that has served as a springboard for many classroom discussions.

The opening and closing rituals of each lesson plan are steeped in movement and risk taking. At the start of each class, the students play “Sally/Jackie Walker” while Jashua plays the djembe drum. “Sally/Jackie Walker” is a dancing game that allows students to mirror each other’s spontaneous movements. The majority of the students love this game and are eager to participate.

The closing ritual is a call and response chant titled “We Are the Ultimates”. This chant emphasizes rhythm and creative word-usage. This ritual succeeds in saying goodbye to the students as well as helping them transition back to their normal schedule. 

Last week Jashua and Adia motivated the students by implementing a new ritual before “Sally/Jackie Walker”. The mentors took turns shaking the students’ hands as they entered the classroom one by one. They took each student’s hand, looked him or her in the eye and said, “(student’s name), you are capable of great things”, or “I believe in you, (student’s name). I am so happy to be teaching you today.”

The majority of the students were surprised but appreciative. Several students were too shy to make initial eye contact but that did not detract from the power of the message. The students heard those words and their meanings rang true throughout the lesson.

Louise Rosenblatt once said, “The atmosphere in the classroom, the relationship between teacher and pupil, and among the pupils, must permit a personal response to what is read.” Rosenblatt believed that a student and the text share a special interactive relationship that’s constantly evolving. There is a similar transaction that occurs between students and teachers. They continue to influence and act upon each other in the most clear and subtle of ways.

This process has never been more evident to me than during the weeks of my residency. Next week I will teach my first lesson plan to Mr. Collins’ fifth grade class. Although I am experiencing all levels of anxiety and excitement as I prepare for this milestone, I would have never known where to begin without the guidance and observations of such seasoned mentors. 

-Emily Collins, TATIP Trainee, Writer