I’ve decided that in the teaching profession, mentors are wasted on the young.
Ok, I guess wasted is a strong term. A good mentor can save a new teacher–pull you back from the brink, when you’re sobbing at your desk after the children have gone home and you know that you can’t do this anymore; they can remind you that you will make it to the next vacation, and you’ll even sleep again someday. I hope that every new teacher can start off their career with a strong, positive mentor beside them.
But that wasn’t in place when I started teaching. I didn’t have one designated mentor. I took mentoring from anybody I could grab, who didn’t run away from the crazed new-teacher look in my eyes–colleagues, coaches, my mom, strangers on the train. It took a village to raise this teacher.
In my seventh year as a teacher, I got a mentor. My principal knew my work in the classroom, and she saw that I wanted to continue growing in my profession, and so she offered to become my mentor. While I jumped at the chance, I didn’t know what that would look like; over the course of the year, we developed our relationship and I learned why it’s so important to have a mentor–especially at this stage in my career! Being a new teacher is all about staying afloat: you don’t have time or capacity to think about how to do the job well; you’re just trying to juggle all the pieces so that you are meeting the basic expectations of doing the job. Now, after seven years, I know how to do the job. I have the bandwidth to take on new challenges, leadership projects, take new risks in my practice. But I wouldn’t have made the leap (or at least, in quite so dramatic a fashion) if it weren’t for my mentor.
Over the last year, she’s encouraged me to make my work visible to a larger audience. She encouraged me to be vulnerable, to get out there and take risks even if it’s scary, and at the same time helped me believe that my ideas are valid, and even valuable to others. I have never read and written so much. She has sent so many books, articles, and Ted Talks my way, my goal is to finish her recommendations by retirement. The writing–first a shared journal, where she and I have logged close to 50 pages of a written conversation, me pouring out my ideas and hopes and fears and experiences and reflections, and her responses, advice, shared experiences, and next steps. Then came Twitter, and now a blog. I’ve always loved to write, and am so happy to finally be figuring out how to make it part of my professional life. I’ve also gotten to step out of my classroom role on occasion, and work more closely with other stakeholders–participating in conferences, running professional development, developing parent surveys and reporting out the results to the community, and more. It has been an unbelievable year of growth.
Two days ago, my mentor announced that she was moving on to a new position. I wasn’t surprised–she is so good at what she does, it was only a matter of time before she would be leading on a larger scale. But I am heartbroken, and a little terrified. She’ll still be close by, so goodness knows I will continue to pester her, present her with my latest struggles, beg for her advice. But at the same time, I know that this next step is an opportunity to show my mentor (and myself) that I have taken those lessons to heart, and that I have the tools and resources to sustain this forward momentum and continue my professional growth on my own. So, going forward, I resolve to continue to live vulnerably, taking risks while holding strong to my core values around what’s best for children and schools. I resolve to keep setting goals and moving towards them, all the while being mindful and reflective of the journey. I resolve to read, and write, and read, and reflect, and write, and maybe speak. And–this is a new one for me–I resolve to be a mentor. My mentor and I have had many conversations about mentoring, about educational leadership, and women in leadership; she has made her commitment to mentoring so clear in our year together, I can only think the best way to repay the debt I owe her is to pay it forward. If I can have half the impact as a mentor, that she’s had on my professional growth, I will consider it a success.
Finally, I think this little story speaks volumes about how I feel about my mentor (and also about what a nutcase I am, but that’s a story for another day): The night after she announced that she was leaving our school, I had a dream about her. In the dream, I was being harassed by a stranger. My mentor swooped in and subdued my harrasser with her ninja mind-melding skills. Seriously. She’s that awesome.