From the Field
Don Thanks a Mentor
By Don O'Callaghan published on Nov 11, 2022
min read
Frederick Douglass Academy VIII Logo

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

As our team gives shoutouts to our various mentors, I’m reminded that mentorship comes in all shapes, forms, and durations. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get a mentor for life and sometimes you’re lucky enough to get a mentor that while not for life, came along at just the right moment (and sometimes you don’t even realize until after the fact that they were mentoring you all along).

Mrs. Thomas was the principal who hired me to teach science and gym at Frederick Douglass Academy (FDA) VIII, a new small school in the Starrett City area of East New York. When I first met my students, I was probably a week or two into Teach for America’s summer induction program. Knowing that I had studied some Latin, Mrs. Thomas introduced me to the inaugural group of 75 sixth graders and without warning asked me to lead them in a resuscitation of FDA VIII’s Latin motto.

The trials and travails of being a first-year teacher are well documented, but suffice to say, it can inspire great crises of confidence. Without perspective, early failed lessons feel like the literal end of the world. Tough results on early student tests leave you feeling your students' failures deep in your bones. But through it all, Mrs. Thomas reinforced constant positivity and imparted self-belief and confidence in me. It seemed like even though at times I felt like I was wilting under the pressure, she knew I wouldn’t.

As routines became more established, lessons more successful, and tests a little more fulfilling for all involved, Mrs. Thomas encouraged me to serve on our leadership team, to participate in hiring and even curriculum selection. She gave me opportunities to learn and grow and participate in the many varied aspects of school life – a peak behind all that went on when it came to running a school.

Though I ended up leaving the teaching profession, I don’t think I’d be where I am now in the education industry without those vital experiences. Seeing and experiencing first-hand the challenges in hiring teachers inspired me to pursue jobs working with organizations that supported school systems and principals through the recruitment and hiring of teachers, which many years later has led all the way to Torace.

And without Mrs. Thomas’ constant belief, positivity, and willingness to let a young person navigate, learn, and grow, I’m not sure I would have had the inner confidence to approach new and challenging situations with the same sense of possibility that I now possess.

Thanks, Mrs. Thomas.

for everyone

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