Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 6: What does a good mentor "do"?

Teaching is one of those professions where mentoring happens no matter if you are in your first year or last year. For me, mentoring is a relationship where people support one another, listen to each other and encourage rather than judge.  A relationship where learning occurs.  Sometimes one person might learn more than the other...but I think a good mentor is someone who learns as well.

My first mentors are the exception because neither of us knew that I would take their example and use it as I figured out what kind of teacher I wanted to be.  They were the teachers I had growing up.  While I didn't realize I wanted to teach until college, once I figured it out, I thought often about those adults that had inspired, challenged and engaged me over the years.  Those were my first mentors as I entered into my education classes.  I would remember and then compare them to what I was learning about teaching.  It helped me to confirm what information was true and what might not be. And let's face it.  If you go through school without ever feeling connected to a teacher, chances are you probably won't enter the profession.

It was in college that I encountered my next group of influential mentors:  my professors, supervisors and cooperating teachers.  These educators opened my eyes to all that had changed since I had been in school.  I was exposed to rich texts, resources and so much more than I had encountered in my own education.  They guided and gave me wonderful feedback as I played with ideas and developed my own pedagogy. After graduating and finding a job, I was lucky to have one of my professors as a colleague in my district.  I knew I was in the right place.

As I entered my school building and my 7th grade position 15 years ago, I was surrounded by the most consummate professionals.  Seasoned veterans. Teachers that had cultivated and maintained one of the most touted middle school cultures in the state.

While they served as mentors in my classroom, they also mentored me as a fellow and new union member.  I was lucky to be surrounded by those that were able to share with me the history of how Farnsworth Middle School came to be.  I learned about battles they fought and won to ensure that teachers had a voice when it came to what was right for kids.

It is because of their tutelage in the ways of our union that I felt confident enough to get involved. I stepped up to be our building secretary, which led to a building rep position on our district Representative Council. Those experiences led to me to run for co-building president, where I take a daily active role in representing and fighting for the rights of the teachers in my building.  It is a huge responsibility and one I don't take lightly.  For as I fight for the colleagues I work with each day, I am, too, fighting the fight of those that came before me.  I don't want to let those mentors down.

And after 15 years, I am still in need of mentoring.  For that I look to my friends and colleagues in my building, in my district, and to those in other districts who inspire me to keep working on my craft.  Mentoring is about learning after all.  And whether you know you are my mentor or not, I appreciate the skill and expertise that I am surrounded by.  I can only hope that I have served others as a mentor.  That I have supported, listened and encouraged rather than judge.  For I would not be the teacher I am today without any of those key teaching influences.  And to them, I say thank you.

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