From the Field
Christina Thanks a Mentor
By Christina Ung published on Nov 18, 2022
min read
122nd Street Elementary School

#THANKAMENTOR is Torace's November campaign to appreciate mentors both personally and professionally.

In the spirit of Torace, I have to thank my mentor teacher from my very first student-teacher placement, Michelle Kirchner.

I was a grad student in UCLA’s joint Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Master’s in Urban Education program and was excited to get my teaching career off the ground. For my very first student teaching assignment, I was assigned to Ms. Kirchner’s 3rd-grade class at 122nd St. Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles. I hope it’s not too cheesy to say, but I remember walking into her class for the first time and really feeling the love in that classroom. And that is exactly what I learned from her in that student teaching experience, how to create a safe space for students filled with love.

When I was assigned to Ms. Kirchner, she was in her 13th year of teaching at the same school (this year marks her 25th year at 122nd St. Elementary School) and I couldn’t wait to learn more about the craft of teaching from an experienced teacher. My background was in literacy, so I was excited to learn how to teach math, science, and social science as well. I was required to keep a journal and write down observations in my first few weeks before actually getting in front of the students to teach a lesson. It was during this time that I picked up on a very different aspect of teaching, the big and small gestures Ms. Kirchner made to ensure her students felt seen, valued, respected, and loved. As students trickled in in the mornings, she would ask specific ones how their parents were doing, if their new baby sister was keeping them up at night, or how a soccer game went. What seemed like simple questions on the surface were actually ways of showing students she cared about them and their whole lives, not just who showed up to class. Bigger gestures were baking 28 cookies the night before so students could decorate them for the holidays, making individual hot cocoas for each student using a hidden microwave in the classroom, and hosting a school-wide career fair, all of which were tied to content-based lessons of course. Whether she knew it or not, every act of teaching I witnessed in that classroom was an act of love.

This was a lesson I carried into my own classroom because I knew if my students felt seen, valued, respected, and loved, then their minds would be opened and primed for learning. Later I also used this when I was a school administrator as well. I wanted my staff and teachers to feel seen, valued, respected, and loved, so they could be their best selves for our students. And I still carry that lesson with me to Torace and my work with clients. I want all our clients to feel seen, valued, respected, and loved, so they can create and run strong programs to develop our nation’s teachers and school leaders.

I feel so lucky to have been assigned Ms. Kirchner because I don’t know if I would have been the teacher, leader, or person I am today. As I sit in this gratitude, it’s hard not to wonder if other student teachers have been or could be as lucky. And that leads to the question, should luck be a factor in student-teacher placements? What if there are thousands of Ms. Kirchners out there who haven’t been assigned to a student teacher? How many student teachers are missing out on such a formative experience? This is precisely why Torace was created, to ensure that student-teacher placements and other forms of mentor matching are informed, intentional, and of the highest quality because our future teachers, our current teachers, and all of our students benefit from it.

for everyone

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