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From "Master" to "Mentor" Teacher: Language Matters

February 10, 2022
Updated November 21, 2023

The Educare Learning Network is committed to embracing anti-bias, anti-racist language, behaviors and practices. Recently, we embarked on a course of action to put this commitment into practice by changing the name of an Educare staff role from “Master Teacher” to “Mentor Teacher.”

Turning Words into Action

In late 2020, the Network’s Master Teacher Learning Group expressed concern about the use of the term “Master Teacher,” both internally and in the wider field of early childhood education. Not only did the term “Master Teacher” bring up parallels with the master-slave relationship and power dynamics therein, but it also did not adequately describe the role itself.

These conversations soon sparked a tangible change, starting with a proposal signed by 36 teachers from various Educare schools. This proposal, which was advanced by the Educare Practice Advisory Committee (EPAC) Work Group, served two main functions:

  • Request guidance for schools to support conversations examining and addressing bias and power dynamics within roles and relationships, both at Educare schools and across the Network; and
  • Encourage the Network as a whole to examine and make recommendations on common language used to describe its work, roles and communities.

As a result, the Educare Learning Network replaced the term “Master Teacher” with “Mentor Teacher” – not only to remove negative associations with the original phrase, but to also better clarify the actual role.

Now, the Network is in the process of revising materials and trainings to reflect this change, while also continuing to explore other language common to our vernacular and update as needed. We are dedicated to ensuring that language changes are paired with mindset and behavior changes, so that intent translates to impact in how we show up in our work.

We do recognize that many schools have already begun to examine their language use and adjust as needed; likewise, many schools do not use the term “Master Teacher.” The Network is not mandating this change, but instead hopes to encourage schools to consider equitable and inclusive language.

Supporting Ongoing Language Exploration

To assist Educare school leaders and staff in exploring the ways in which Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) show up in our everyday work, along with the importance and power of language, the EPAC Work Group with support from the Network’s backbone team at Start Early also developed a discussion guide that offers suggested norms, discussion prompts and additional resources to help advance DEIB efforts. Responses from the EPAC Work Group have so far been encouraging.

“I love that it is pretty comprehensive in the sense that you could pick up this document and understand why we’re having this conversation, and how to go through this thinking process step-by-step,” says Brittany Foss, Mentor Teacher at Educare Central Maine.

Tatiana Gomez, Family Engagement Specialist at Educare Miami, agrees. “[This guide] narrates in a simple, yet cohesive way how it originated and what it aims for.”

“I find myself seeing this as a guide I have needed in my meetings,” adds Serenity Umelo, Family Engagement Coordinator at Educare Tulsa.

Across the country, all Educare schools are engaged in ongoing work to advance DEIB at their programs and in their communities – and all schools are in different stages of this journey. Our goal with sharing this discussion guide and other materials is to provide a space for conversation, reflection and recognition of our language use.

Why? Because, as another newly renamed Mentor Teacher so aptly put it, we should “embrace the power of language. Often when we shift our language, so our thinking shifts as well.”