Monday, September 15, 2014

A Good Mentor

Image credit: Accidental Creative
What does a good mentor “do”?  This question prompted me to reflect back to the very beginning of my teaching career at Alleghany High School in Sparta, NC.  Straight out of corporate America, AHS hired me as a lateral entry business teacher right smack in the middle of the school year.  My predecessor retired just before Thanksgiving, and I came in as a sub to finish the semester, starting my permanent position in January.  At that point, I had only substitute taught four times at a local K-8 school and had not taken a single course in education, but my Business Administration degree qualified me for the lateral entry job.  I knew very little about teaching and absolutely nothing about teaching high school, but I was excited about teaching Computer Applications to high schoolers.   I was so oblivious that I wasn't scared or worried.  My substitute teaching in the lower grades had gone very well, and so I was optimistic.  I’m creative, energetic and pretty decent at public speaking, so my business and marketing skills transferred well into my teaching position, and overall I must say that I not only survived but thrived.  

Nonetheless, I needed a mentor badly. The other business teacher was very kind and offered to help whenever I needed, but I was so clueless that I had no idea what to ask.  My principal assigned one of the English teachers as my mentor.  Even though my mentor was out of my field, she can be credited with my success as an educator, especially that first year, not so much because she told me what I needed to know but because she asked me all the right questions.  She didn’t just give me information (well maybe a little), but she empowered me to seek answers that I needed to successfully teach the curriculum to my student population.  She challenged me mentally and enabled my professional growth.  She also grew alongside me.  As a business teacher, I shared my technology skills with her, and it became a mutually beneficial experience for both of us.  

So, back to the original question.  What does a good mentor “do”?  Webster defines the word mentor as “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.”  That almost sounds like my role as a teacher, even though mentoring is not in the official job description.  Furthermore, the word mentor reminds me of the Spanish word “mente” which means “mind.”  A mentor should, as my mentor did with me, do more asking than telling and stretch the mentee’s “mente” (mind).   A good mentor will most certainly empower their mentees, but most importantly grow alongside with them and not be afraid to let their mentees surpass them.  

After answering this question, I’ve come to realize that more than an ESL teacher, I’m a mentor to those students entrusted to my instruction who are, as Webster defines, less experienced and younger. 

Until next time....#BestYearEver

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