Teacher to Teacher: The Importance of Being a Mentor
by Lynne R. Dorfman
From Oxford Languages dictionary
noun: mentor; plural noun: mentors
- an experienced and trusted adviser.
“he was her friend and mentor until his death in 1915”
Similar: adviser, guide, confidant, counselor, consultant, guru
- an experienced person in a company, college, or school who trains and counsels new employees or students.
“regular meetings between mentor and trainee help guide young engineers through their early years”
Similar: trainer, teacher, tutor, coach
Years ago I read a book called A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind. I must admit, the title immediately drew me in. The author followed Cedric Jennings, an intelligent and determined honor student at a high school in one of Washington D.C.’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where the dropout rate was well into double digits, to his years at Brown University. Cedric Jennings’s driving ambition was to attend a top college.
The idea that stood out to me was the way Cedric seemed to know when he needed another mentor in his life. His strong mother, his pastor Bishop Long, a high school teacher, and his sponsor, Dr. Donald Korb all served as mentors for him in his journey to achieve his goal. In September 1995, after years of struggles and dedication, he realized his dream when he began as a freshman at Brown University. When I finished reading the book, I could not help but think that today’s teachers might be able to turn the tide around and provide some hope to more of our children in what is unseen now.
Students need mentoring relationships to grow and flourish. I thought about Allyn and Morrell’s Every Child a Super Reader: 7 Strengths to Open a World of Possible and how the authors address hope as a strength of a “super reader.” These books have been important to me and have nurtured the idea of mentorship being key to our success as students and as capable, productive citizens.
It’s important to have mentors in our lives; essential, really. Some of our mentors stay with us for a long time and continue to help us grow, push forward, and evolve. My grandfather was an important mentor. I think he modeled for me what is meant by the Golden Rule. I still try to live my life by his example. He is always with me. Often, if we are lucky, our parents and grandparents stay with us as mentors for a very long time. Other mentors may be short-term such as a grade school, a secondary school teacher, or a university professor. Coaches such as a basketball or Little League coach, or a gymnastics or dance coach can provide years of mentorship.
New teachers are often assigned a mentor who is a support, a guide, and a counselor during a three-to-five-year induction program. Often, the bond created here goes well beyond the program. In my case, the last mentor relationship I was assigned to in my district blossomed into a lifelong friendship. I read at Karen’s wedding and she was a bridesmaid at my wedding. We celebrate our birthdays and often, holidays. We email, talk and text; sort out problems, provide advice and support, laugh together, sharing bits and pieces of our lives. What joy it brings me to continue this mentor relationship past my retirement from Upper Moreland nine years ago!
Mentors encourage and enable another person’s professional or personal development. A mentor can help focus their efforts by setting goals and giving feedback. A mentor’s knowledge can create a high-quality and productive workforce. Employees appreciate workplaces that encourage development, as it can demonstrate that their employer values them and wants to see them grow. A mentor can help their mentee set personal or professional development goals and help their mentee be accountable for accomplishing those goals. When mentees find themselves struggling to perform their job or reach a goal, they can turn to their mentor for support. This encouragement can motivate them to keep moving forward despite challenges. A mentor can also identify and express their mentee’s strengths to instill confidence in them. Having a strong sense of confidence can make the mentee less likely to give up on their goals.
A mentor can serve as a resource to discuss new goals or problems that arise. The mentor can provide unbiased advice or opinions using their relevant knowledge and experience. With these insights, the mentee can better understand what steps to take and whether to pursue the idea or walk away. Similarly, a mentor can also listen and advise them on daily concerns, such as workplace conflicts. A mentor provides valuable, honest feedback. By establishing trust, the mentee understands that constructive criticism aims to build their professional growth. Both mentor and mentee improve their interpersonal skills as a result of their relationship. Being a mentor offers many rewards.
Becoming a mentor has many benefits. Mentors build leadership skills and confidence, grow networks, and provide a sense of fulfillment. Being a mentor reminds us of what we enjoy about our profession, fostering renewed engagement. Knowing that you made a positive impact on someone’s life or career is a reward beyond monetary compensation. Thinking about the mentors in our lives can spur us on to be a mentor to family members, students, or colleagues at work. It can offer an opportunity to pay it forward, and how great is that! And who knows? One day, you may serve as inspiration for your mentee to do the same for someone else.