Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 6: A Good Mentor

As a teacher, I'm more comfortable in the role of the mentor, not the men-tee. Personally, mentorship is very much a professional growth area because it's difficult for me to admit what is implied by the need for a mentor. Mentorship means I need to admit that I don't know everything, which is terrifying since I take great pride in and prove my value by doing my own homework, figuring things out for myself, and then creating a product that meets my own high standards. 

I don't think I'm alone either. Many of my fellow teachers - co-workers, community members, teacher peers - seem to take a similar approach. For some of those fellow teachers with more experience, there is another dimension: "I've been teaching this way for ___ years and it's seemed to work fine. I don't need a mentor." That stigma attached to the outward expression that a teacher would like a mentor is, for a lot of us, a stinging bruise to the ego. 

But my definition of a good mentor fits within this developing acceptance of a need for mentorship. A good mentor is the best mentor when she doesn't even realize she's a mentor. That mentorship is almost invisible. This is important because the difference between a mentor and a teacher is this: a teacher is very plainly in front of the classroom for the purpose of guiding and inspiring, while a mentor's best lessons are those that are not explicitly taught. And for those of us still working to accept that part of our professional growth, seeing another teacher as a mentor without making it known can help scaffold that acceptance. 

What's more, a good mentor relationship is be beneficial for both sides. Just as an essential part of teaching is continuing to learn, a mentoring relationship should be one in which both parties are able to feed off of the development of the other. Furthermore, just as good teaching means more than just duplication and repetition, a mentor is not one to be merely copied as a template, but rather inspired by each other. 

This can be a rather tall order for a single mentor-mentee relationship. In I Shouldn't Be Telling You This by Kate White, I read about a suggestion particularly for female professionals: have a personal board of directors. This is a group of professional women in your life, each of whom can provide mentoring in an individual facet of one's professional development. I find this to be a relatively non-threatening way to spur my own growth since there's no need to notify these members of their status in any more specificity than "Hey, when I have a question about classroom discipline, would you feel comfortable talking about that with me?" My "board" includes an expert in the area of formal education credentials (Ph.D.? Ed.D.? another M.A.?), business relationships, leadership development, and, of course, instruction. 

In fact, I imagine that mentor standing in the back of my room for every lesson I teach. I imagine her reaction as she reads each lesson plan, her feedback to assignment cover sheets, her body language as she sits in the back of my room during class discussion. She's one more way I keep myself accountable. 

One of my best summer reads was Mindset by Carol Dweck because it sparked the area of professional growth I need to work on next. Personally, I make a conscious effort to have a "growth mindset," especially in the hopes that this mindset will be acquired by my sons. But in teaching, I still have a hard time accepting "areas of improvement." The suggested "board of directors"ideas has proven to be fulfilling and invigorating, and I advise any young professional to try it out. 

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