When Tracy S. Bailey enters a classroom as an educational mentor, she has one thing in mind:
“I want to find a way to inspire those teachers,” she says. “To be inspired, our teachers must be able to connect with that thing that brought them into the classroom. I want to move them to be in touch with the sanctity of the work they are doing.”
The former high school English teacher says she starts by reminding them that teaching is a calling.
“Teaching gives you the opportunity to transform a life every time you stand in front of the classroom,” says Bailey, who has been an educational mentor for the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (NUA) since 2005.
By the time she has stepped into a classroom as an educational mentor, Bailey has already learned as much as she can about the school from visiting its website and talking to people who know the school’s climate and history. Often, she has observed the classroom culture by participating in the instructional assessment that NUA conducts to gauge a school’s instructional strengths and needs.
“I can gain so much more by sitting in the back of a classroom and watching. I learn a lot about the engagement of the student, mostly by watching student actions, more so than from watching teacher actions,” she says.
Bailey is the founder of the Freedom Readers™ After School Literacy Program in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She launched Freedom Readers in 2010 to help connect children from low-income communities with “adults who love to read and who love children,” she says. Through Freedom Readers, children meet in a local community center once a week for 90 minutes to read with an adult. At the end of each session, the children get free books to take home.
Bailey is also a professional development associate with the Leadership and Learning Center, which leads workshops and seminars for teachers and administrators in school districts around the country.
Bailey, who has a doctorate degree in language and literacy from the University of South Carolina, earned her M.Ed in secondary education and teaching from Coastal Carolina University. She has a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature/letters from the College of Charleston.
Working with NUA, Bailey makes monthly trips to Minnesota to mentor a group of instructional coaches from a few school districts in the area. These are the frontline coaches who are working with local teachers to help them learn how best to infuse NUA’s teaching strategies into their classrooms.
She says she stresses to coaches the need to “listen first.”
“Listening is key to being able to build on the strengths of the teachers with whom they work,” she says. “Before you go in trying to make changes, you have to build on strength of the teachers, just as NUA asks teachers to build on students’ strengths.”
She says she finds the coaches are extremely interested in finding out more about culture and how culture impacts learning and relationships between students and teachers. They want to learn strategies that can help their teachers better connect with their students.
And she knows what’s driving them. They, too, want to inspire. They get it, Bailey says. They understand that more than information, what today’s teachers need is transformation.
“These coaches are looking for a way to inspire,” she says, “because when you’re able to see a flame rekindled that had gone out, when you see teachers reengage with the work and you see that spark come back, as a mentor you know you can stand back and let them then inspire their students to excel.”
Tracy Bailey, Ph.D.