Editor’s Note: In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. In recent years, that number is closer to just three years leading a classroom. The “On Teaching” series focuses on the wisdom of veteran teachers.
On Renee Moore’s first day of teaching—in the fall of 1990 at East Side High School, a rural, nearly all-Black school in Cleveland, Mississippi—she got to school before sunrise to calm her nerves. As she looked around her empty classroom, she heard a knock on the door. It was the husband of Dorothy Grenell, the English teacher who had worked in this same classroom for 40 years and had interviewed Moore for this job a few months earlier. Now, via her husband, Grenell was giving Moore two boxes of curricula she and her colleagues had refined over four decades. In the following months, as Moore struggled to make her own classrooms work, she spent much of her after-school time on Grenell’s living-room couch, listening to her mentor’s advice. “You need a sincere love for children,” Grenell liked to remind Moore. “Never give up on a child.”
Over the next few years, Moore got to observe other Black veterans at East Side High. She noticed that her mentors were firm and demanding, but also warm and encouraging. They approached each challenge in the classroom with a belief that all students were capable of learning—they never assumed students just weren’t motivated or sufficiently prepared to engage with demanding material. The teachers knew every student’s name, their dreams, and their interests; they maintained close relationships with the students’ families. Years later, Moore learned that Black teachers in the South—including many of her mentors—had played a key role in “seeding” the civil-rights movement by helping their students in Black, segregated schools develop pride in their intellect and a sense of collective responsibility.