Eleven years ago, I had the privilege of teaching alum, Lora McManus ’10, in my 7th grade world history class. Recently, I caught up with her to hear about her new role as a teaching fellow at Crane Country Day School, a K-8 independent school in Montecito, California. While her career as an educator is in its infancy, our roles will parallel next year as she transitions into supporting design in her school’s Design and Engineering Center (DEC) and I continue as the Director of Innovation and Design at MJS.
Although her Mayfield days were a long time ago, I can vividly remember Lora’s unwavering drive, passion and charisma. She had a love of learning and a love of school itself. She could not get enough of MJS, often staying after school to chat with me or help me hang student work on my bulletin boards. It was obvious that her future role would be in education.
Lora recalled those days, “I remember going up to my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Marmolejo every day to tell her that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. I just have always loved how teachers make things happen – how they can deliver information in an efficient comprehensible way has always interested me.”
The teaching fellowship at Crane is specifically designed to give new teachers experience in the classroom with the support of mentor teachers. For the first year, Lora was assigned to the school’s fourth grade. “I've just really enjoyed having this opportunity to experiment, with relatively low stakes, in a classroom full of mentor teachers. I don't have to carry all the weight but I definitely have a significant portion of teaching time and bandwidth to experiment with my own stuff.”
Lora’s true passion in education lies in equity and social justice. When she was in high school at Mayfield Senior School, Lora attended the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference and that is where she became motivated to get involved. “When I was a student at Pitzer College, I worked at the strategic level, participating in policy-making and administrative self-studies. Now at Crane, they’ve been really supportive just by letting me teach about equity and social justice both in my own classroom and in what I publish and post on social media.”
When I visited Lora’s fourth grade classroom, I was lucky enough to observe her teach a culminating lesson on the cycle of oppression. She checked for understanding on difficult vocabulary, including the difference between institutionalized racism and internalized racism. Students then analyzed all of the books they read this year to determine which steps in the cycle applied and which characters disrupted the cycle. She empowered her students to disrupt the oppression they see in the world.
“These are really wonderful moments," Lora told me, "because I can almost see their young brains developing and formulating around these really big theoretical concepts that I know I wasn't introduced to until I was much older. Recognizing that 4th graders can tackle, connect and respond to these concepts of equity, diversity and social justice is really interesting to see."
She also shared some of her strategy, "We have been using these vocabulary words throughout the year. I think by breaking them down, repeating them and then using a lot of synonyms helps them hear the context. We have also spent a lot of time talking about making change at the micro, mezzo and macro levels and how that connects to institutionalized oppression.”
As an observing teacher, I took a few moments to talk to the kids. I asked a boy in Lora's class what he thought of these discussions. He responded, “I think this anti-bias stuff is really interesting and important. It will help us be better people when we grow up because we will be better at noticing bias.” Lora was happy to hear his comment, “I love that the students are seeing the value in this because teaching in a primarily white independent school in a very affluent area provides a unique opportunity and obligation to prepare students to be conscientious citizens.”
Lora is excited and a little nervous about moving into the Design and Engineering Center in her second year as a fellow. One thing that motivated her to move into this position is that the school continues to support her development in anti-bias education. She is hoping to chaperone Crane's 8th grade civil rights trip. “I think they would like me to diversify my portfolio and I agree that it would be valuable for my future. I hope to find some projects where the social justice work can fit into design projects. I think there will be some opportunity especially in the history and language arts curriculum. I plan to observe and help with those lessons and hopefully connections will arise.”
Lora has high hopes for her future. One day, she hopes to be a director of diversity at an independent school. While only a small percentage of schools have added the position, they are growing in number every year. Lora is optimistic, “I know there were about 30 schools hiring for this position around the country this year. I would really like to be able to work at the administrative level to make policy changes, evaluate admission and hiring protocols in order to model best practices for students in really tangible ways. But for now, I want to stay in the classroom and continue to do these kinds of lessons.”