Home » 30 Days – What does a good mentor do?

30 Days – What does a good mentor do?

Explain:  What does a good mentor “do”?

I can’t lie.  I’ve been repeatedly looking at this question, dodging it, and coming back to it.  I’ve been avoiding my blog because I can’t think of a way to answer this question that doesn’t sound negative at first.

The truth is that during Undergrad, I was in a community with way more future teachers than available mentors, so my first practicum was under a very kind middle school teacher with very unruly classes.  Now looking back after I’ve had a few unruly classes myself, I realize that she was an absolute saint to allow me into her classroom, making time to share her lunch and free time with me, when she had such difficult classes.

Student teaching started just two weeks after I lost my father.  Instead of delaying my graduation to fall to stay with my mom and then-teenaged sisters, I went back to my university to graduate on time.  (Fun Fact:  My aunt proctored all of my undergrad finals in the skywalk of the hospital so I could accomplish this.)  I’m not sure if I’m motivated, stubborn, or if I tend to choose bizarre coping strategies.  It could be any combination, I suppose.

Suffice to say, I probably wasn’t in a healthy frame of mind when I started student teaching, but I tried to be ambitious and ready to go.  During student teaching I had no contact with parents, no contact with teachers other than my supervisor, and I wasn’t introduced to Powerschool other than logging in and showing students their grades.  I also never personally chose or delivered a punishment to a student.

The classroom had minimal technology, and I didn’t always get to make copies.  I’d get nervous and often make mistakes transcribing things onto the board…  Sometimes I would come in to write an entire assignment on the board for the students, and was left apologizing the next day because I accidentally wrote an polynomial that was unfactorable with our current method.  I was also told to never ask students to do things ‘for me’ because they wouldn’t always like me.

(Confession:  I still ask students to do things for me…but try to make it non-academic…and I always say please.  It’s usually something silly like answering the phone or closing the door.  But I always think of my supervising teacher when I say “for me.”)

Most of his criticisms were small things like that, but being young, it was hard to not take them personally.  I didn’t feel as though I were becoming a better teacher, I instead felt as though all of these trivialities would make me a crummy teacher.  I do remember being praised for a cool lesson on a derivation of one of Kepler’s laws, but I usually didn’t feel like I got things right on the first try.

Coupled with a university observation that ended in the advice to “not smile until Christmas,” I was in a bad place emotionally, and often wondered if I could teach for the rest of my life.  I knew that I wanted to finish student teaching to put the capstone on my degree, but I often entertained fantasies of going into a non-education math or science field instead.  I called my mother every day on the drive home to talk to her about my day.  I was a stellar math/science student, but I felt doomed to be a mediocre teacher.

At the end of my student teaching experience, my supervising teacher’s job was actually open because he was moving to the university full time.  I applied for it and never got a call back.  Given how much I love my current school, I’m not particularly broken up about it.

So I moved back in with my mother, and had only planned on staying for the summer.  I worked front desk at a hotel, and it was a good job.  Thankfully, my attitude had turned around by the end of the summer and I felt optimistic enough to apply for my current job.  I also moved out and got my own place in town, planning to stay.

At this point (4 years later), I’m not quite sure what a good mentor does, but I do know that I felt like an inconvenience rather than a learner in my two placements.

Instead, I made friends in my school, and I now have teachers that I go to regularly.  My best mentors are mentors of circumstance rather than strict assignment.  They are people that admit they don’t always have the right answer for everything, and our discussions are friendly rather than one-sided.  I feel comfortable telling these people when I make a mistake and I feel comfortable asking for counsel.

I also appreciate the realism of my coworkers.  I felt particularly defeated one day during my first year when a student swore at me and called me names.  The teacher across the hall came over and told me that for some groups of students this was normal, and she told me strategies to minimize those occurrences.  I haven’t been called a mean name since the first year, thanks to her!

Sometimes the best support comes from friends who face the same hardships, and that shared strength is the key to moving on.  Mentoring shouldn’t be an obligation to the mentor or mentee.  It should be something that grows like a relationship.  A true mentorship isn’t made up of forced deadlines and meetings, but unfortunately that’s most of what I experienced in my training.

These days I wouldn’t think of myself as having one specific mentor, but I do have a solid group of coworkers who make me better every day.  I feel much better now that I am able to share ideas and get feedback from more than once person at a time.  I love my job and am so glad I stuck with my calling after my undergrad experiences.

It takes a village to raise a child, but maybe it also takes a school to raise a teacher.

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