A Conversation with 5oaks Educator Mentor Sally Benbasset


Sally Benbasset is radiant. We have settled in a bright corner for our interview, and sunlight streams through the windows and casts a glow around her short curls. We chat quietly as I photograph her and set up a recorder. I learn that Sally taught for 35 years in Massachusetts and in Washington, DC, and that her commitment to education stretches back to her childhood. Now, as a 5oaks Educator Mentor, Sally uses her passion and experience to empower the next generation of educators.     

What drew you to the 5oaks Educator Mentor program?Sally Benbasset pic

When I went into teaching, I saw it as a part of social change. My parents are immigrants, and education was the way to become American – so education was part of my passion. I can still be brought to tears watching a kid learn how to read. I mean it’s a miracle, you know, it’s second to birth, it’s just a miracle.  

What attracted me to 5oaks was the feeling of community, of finding like-minded people. The other thing that attracted me to the program is that I really believe, deep in my heart, that we can always learn. I liked the idea of being in a classroom where I could collaborate with a teacher and that our work together wasn’t part of the evaluation. That our work was about: ‘what are you interested in getting better at?’  And then that goal becomes sort of a fulcrum for our work together. I really feel that teachers in the classroom today deserve and need a huge amount of support.

How does your perspective and experience help you mentor in the 5oaks program?

I feel teachers are so focused on accountability and curriculum and following protocol and testing that there’s very little room or energy for any creativity or really understanding the kids. Like, ‘what are the kids excited about?’ or ‘it’s a beautiful day outside, I want to be outside with the kids for an extra fifteen minutes.’  I mean it sounds so trite to say, but we don’t value teachers at all, and I think everybody needs somebody who’s going to say: ‘I really noticed that you were able to do this and this,’ or ‘you know, that was outside the box’ or’ you’re amazingly patient’ or something that’s not an evaluative thing but just noticing how hard it is to be a teacher but then also noticing the things you’re doing well. I think no one’s at the top of their game the first couple years, you could be a naturally great teacher, but you still have a lot to learn. 


9606901285_9c5f6124ac_cWe have to figure out a way to keep people in the field. We have to figure out a way to sustain people. Last year, I was a mentor and I feel like I was able to notice things the teacher was doing that her principal didn’t notice. You know, those little things: the relationship she had with some of the kids in the class, the fact that she would have all these experts come in and they’d say ‘do this and this and this’ and she would always try to do it. There were things I noticed that were positive, and I think that was really helpful to her – not so much in terms of changing behavior, but just making her feel like ‘at least I’m doing some things right.’  As a mentor, I think my role is to support teachers and perhaps expand their vision.  Maybe that’s what I want to say: my role as a mentor is to expand teachers’ visions of what they’re doing and what they’re accomplishing.


About the 5oaks Educator Mentors:

The 5oaks Educator Mentor Program mobilizes skilled, experienced educators to support, inspire, and retain the next generation of educators in the greater Boston area. More information on the 5oaks program can be found on the Aspire Institute website.

Photo: Photo used under Creative Commons license. Originally posted on Flickr by U.S. Department of Education.

About the Author: Kayla Howard is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Aspire Institute where she helps manage the blog. Kayla attends Emmanuel College and will be receiving her B.A. in May, 2014.