A personal tribute and reflection on the importance of mentorship by Stacey James McAdoo
“And how are the children?” was a standard question Aunt Cozetta asked every time we spoke on the phone. My answer was always, “Perfect.” She got a kick out of me saying so especially on the days when I knew that she knew their behavior didn’t accurately reflect it. It didn’t matter if when she asked I was currently on the twenty-ninth minute of hiding in the bathroom because I needed some peace from JEM and Sonshine’s curiosity and creativity – the answer was always the same. The children, my children (who are a little less than two years apart with a lot of differences in gender, personality and learning styles), were perfect and I knew so because they were healthy, alive and thriving in their own way.
A year or so after my first year in the classroom, I reluctantly stumbled upon my educational mentor, Ms. Marie Parker. At the time she was the Director of Great Expectations of Arkansas and the Arkansas A+ Network. And although she never met my Aunt Cozetta they were similar in many regards. Like Aunt Cozetta her salutations were led with the same “And how are the children?” greeting. Ms. Marie’s question, however, extended beyond an inquiry about my biological ones. Her question was akin to the Maasai people. She was asking about the welfare of all the children… in my classroom…in my community…in my life…and how I was working to improve it.
There are all types of lists out there with defining qualities of what makes a good leader. No matter the criteria you settle on, a leader cannot exist without a follower. And I became hers the first day we met. It was not because we were of the same gender, the same ethnicity or wore the same hairstyle (a short afro at a time when naturals were not widely accepted or as common as they are today). Although admittedly those were the hooks that immediately drew me in. What kept me were the meaningful and relevant ways in which she maintained my engagement.
She led with a quiet assuredness that made me pay close attention to the things she didn’t say. Respect and relationships were at the heart of her guiding principles. You could tell by her eyes, the attentiveness in her body language and the reflective questions she asked that she was sincere and authentic. She was a proverb speaking sage who made me want to work hard…to peel the layers… to dig deep and give her my all even when I thought I had nothing left to offer.
As a novice and non-traditional educator, she took me under her wing and introduced me to theories that helped me name what my spirit-self already knew. She invested in me and provided opportunities for me to grow not just as a learner or leader but as a facilitator — and more importantly as a person. Even though she lived over 200 miles away and was not affiliated with the Pathways Mentoring Program offered through my district, Ms. Parker knew more about me, my strengths/weaknesses and what was going on in my classroom than any of my colleagues and evaluators that I shared a building with.
So how are the children? They are brilliant and resilient beyond measure. And as long as there are still educators who learned from, under or were influenced by Ms. Marie Parker serving as educational leaders, policymakers and classroom practitioners I am confident that all the children are well.
In honor of National Mentoring Month, leave a comment or share a story about your mentor. Then, if they are still alive and/or around, reach out to them to let them know they are appreciated.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 16 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*