Mentoring: A Personal Perspective – 10 Things I’ve Learned

I am a first generation college graduate that grew up in severe city poverty.  I wasn’t one of these children that didn’t know they were poor; I knew at a very young age.  I was aware of labels that people shared to describe me from the time I was five.  My mother didn’t know how or was too embarrassed to ask about the school subsidized lunch program and I went to school without lunch or money many days.  Kind teachers would give me a ticket that was left over but others were not so generous and I learned that by helping me some people were punished.  In High School I was given multiple labels, some good and some bad, my counselor was quick to point out the negative to me and anyone else that would listen.  Finally an adult who was dismayed by the counselors’ comments suggested to the Principal that I needed a different counselor.  My new counselor plus my high ACT and SAT scores got me into a college where I successfully received degrees in Chemistry and Education.

As a workshop participant I recently spent several days reviewing the benefits of mentoring, specifically how it will help students complete high school and move on to some form of post secondary education.  As I listened to the numerous suggestions I reflected on my personal mentoring experience.  Initially I had negative mentoring.   I succeeded due to my stubbornness and hard headedness.  As a young person I was determined to spite the naysayers.

I became a teacher and my mentoring experiences completely changed.  I worked in a school with a group of teachers that were totally student oriented and very positive role models.  As I listened during the workshop I created a list of items I learned from my mentors and I wish I could share my experiences with every new teacher.  I was the baby of the staff for 10 years and maybe this is why they were more willing to help me.  Whatever the reason I am very grateful.

The following list is what I learned and what I offer to new teachers:

  1. Observation is Good. I observed other teachers and they observed me regularly, then we discussed what we saw.
  2. Follow the Leader or NOT. Recognize who the leader is when it comes to specific items.  The leader isn’t always the same person.  Listen and learn.  Find out who is really in charge of what you want or need and then ask that person.
  3. Meetings are Necessary. If you don’t know what is going on you have no one to blame but yourself.  Sometimes meetings are small with just a few staff members, sometimes it is the entire faculty.  All are important.
  4. Team Teaching is Amazing. I had multiple opportunities to team teach and I became a better teacher every time.  Learn from others and determine how to work with them.  You can only get better.
  5. Don’t be afraid to be a Risk Taker. This can be very difficult if you aren’t in an environment where it is accepted.  Making mistakes and learning from them will make you the best.
  6. Trust Students. They know how they learn best, we have to help them uncover the possibilities.  Student solutions, ideas, suggestions surpassed my thinking most of the time and I became a better teacher as a result.
  7. Cross Content, Multidisciplinary Units Should be Required. Once you see how you fit with other contents, so will your students.
  8. Looping will make your Job Easier. For seven years I taught classes with a combination of 7th and 8th grade students.  The first week of school my 8th graders mentored the 7th on all of the procedures and processes needed to be successful in my classroom.  In two years my students moved through three to four years of material and enjoyed themselves as they learned.
  9. Reflect and Celebrate. Both of these make you a better teacher.  Don’t do this by yourself everytime.  Find ways to do this with others that will encourage your success.
  10. Involve all Stakeholders. Parents, office staff, lunchroom and custodial workers will gladly participate in student learning.  Know what you need and ask.

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