How My Mentor Made Me a Better Teacher

How My Mentor Made Me a Better TeacherHas anyone in your life ever acted as a mentor? Have you ever helped anyone else in the same way? As a beginning teacher, we get assigned mentors as part of our training in the state of North Carolina. For me, this mentorship was extremely important, as I was a lateral entry teacher and had not taken a single education course prior to my teaching career beginning. Sure, I had a psychology degree, had passed the Praxis for Special Education, and had taken a developmental psychology course as a part of my college education, but the process of teaching was something entirely new to me. 

I can recall my first day as a special education teacher. I felt more nervous than the kids, but my career started at tough school with tough kids. I steeled myself, went over expectations, and did what I was told. You can always loosen up later as a teacher, but if you start off that way, it’s harder to tighten up the reigns later. I remained firm in my resolve to maintain good classroom management and made sure the kids knew the adult was in charge. 

I also felt energized because I had big plans for these kids. We would make progress this year if it killed me. I taught them with an energy that I wish I still had today–the energy of a young person on a mission. I still have that will to teach and do the impossible, but I’m older now and have children of my own. That year, with the help of a really good mentor, I pushed those kids to succeed and took no prisoners in my drive to succeed with these kids. Some of them told me that they hated me, but I knew they only meant that in the teenage sense of the word and that in reality, they needed the rules and structure that I provided. 

Thankfully for me, my mentor taught the self-contained classroom for behaviorally challenged kids, so whenever I needed advice on how to handle behaviors, she had several tricks to pull out of her hat. My mentor became not just a good resource for me, but one of my best friends. I loved working with her because she had so much patience and the advice that only a person teaching for over 15 years could provide. 

By the end of the year, I had gotten my students to do more work than they’d done in years. Their previous teacher hadn’t pushed them at all, and they by no means were used to my brand of teaching. I told them that I expected them to learn because they could do more and I held them to that expectation not just with the rules I had in place, but with the activities that I cultivated throughout the year. We did battleship with coordinates, used candy as manipulatives, and moved integers on the smartboard to add and subtract. I sang things out to them like “to the left, to the left…” when going over the integers on the number line. I had them singing along with me. I had them reading passages above where they thought they could read. I kept them after school to work with me when discipline problems arose and put kids on behavior contracts that they knew I expected them to follow. They made progress on their end of grade testing. A lot of progress.

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My administrator, who was famous for yelling at teachers in the hallway when he got angry, never bothered me. I got nothing but praise from him. The only time I got in moderate trouble was when a parent came in after I made a bunch of phone calls home in the middle of class to let them know about something that had occurred in the classroom. He thought the parent was angry and told me to apologize, but when I apologized, something unexpected happen. The parent told me that his child needed to apologize to me. I had built such a strong relationship with the parents I worked with that they stood up for me as well. Those kids knew that they could not get away with anything. The bond I had forged with their parents was a strong one. I never got bothered by my administrator again. I had nothing but support because not only did I get parents on my side, but I taught effectively.

When I had to move away for my husband’s job, I got a glowing recommendation from my previous administrator, which landed me at one of the best high schools in the state. I felt blessed. I think my mentor had more to do with that than anything. Without her guidance and support, I’m not sure I would’ve survived the two years I had at that school. Some of the kids I taught brought weapons, like knives and switchblades. Some of them brought drugs. Even at middle school level, they participated in gang activity. It seemed like only my kids got in major trouble like that, and I experienced multiple manifestation meetings in those first two years. I broke up fights and got sent kids who needed to be straightened up because I provided the tough love they needed. Kids I didn’t teach knew me. “She don’t play,” were the words that rung out when I passed by kids. Though my job was tough, I believe I did my best work in those two years, even as I learned what autism was for the first time. If I had to take anything back from those two years, it would be the way I handled kids who, upon reflection, most assuredly had autism. I know strategies now that I never knew then and I could have done better if I had known. 

As an experienced teacher now, I love to help colleagues who need advice on behavioral strategies or who need to learn more about autism. I think that, provided an opportunity, I would mentor teachers the way my mentor worked with me. With patience, kindness, and fortitude. I would make whomever I worked with feel reassured in his or her ability to teach. There are positives and negatives every day when you’re teaching, but sometimes you just need someone to help you see the light at the end of the tunnel on the bad days. I would do that for someone else because I’ve often needed it myself. This teaching thing isn’t easy, but it’s worth it when you think about all of the wonderful things you can do for kids who never had anyone else believe in them before. I went into this profession to change the lives of young people, and I can distinctly remember every child whose life I’ve touched over the years. They mean more to me than they know. I hope to one day mentor other teachers so they may see just how much they can do to improve the lives of young people. Because some children may hate you today for holding them to expectations, but they will contact you after they’ve graduated to tell you just how much you did to make them believe in themselves so that they could join the Marine Corps, or go to college, or create their own business. I couldn’t ask for a better gift than that.

Have you ever had a mentor or mentored someone else? Tell me about it in the comments!


Sunny Saturdays 9

Welcome to another week of Sunny Saturdays. I keep hoping to see some link-ups during the week, but I’m still waiting for your participation! Come and join the party and help spread the word for me! This week you can also link up with your Twitter account!

This Week’s Writing Prompts:

  1. How do you work to be similar to or different from your parents? 
  2. Has anyone in your life ever acted as a mentor? Have you ever helped anyone else in the same way?
  3. Complete the simile: “As precious as…”

Next Week’s Prompts:

  1. Describe the last time you pulled an all-nighter. Why did you do it? Was it worth it? 
  2. Guilty! Write about the last time you felt guilt about something.
  3. If you could have any expert teach you everything they knew, who would you choose? 
Embracing the Spectrum

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Friday Blog Booster Party

Originally posted 2015-05-30 07:09:34.

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  1. Great thoughts about mentoring and I was drawn into your story. I have had several great mentors in various seasons and times of life. I am a better person because of their influence and have been able to turn around and mentor some other gals along the way. It is such a huge blessing to see your mentorees do amazing things and to think you had a small part in who they have become.