Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mentor of the Gifted, not the Gifted Mentor?

See P.S. Below....

About ten years ago, my Teacher of the Gifted job expanded from a 60% position to full-time when the district needed the then-Teacher of the Gifted at the high school to teach another section of English.  During the years prior to that, I had been working in the four elementary schools and the middle school.  My certification was elementary, through grade 8, having been secured well prior to the primary/intermediate/middle certifications of today.  The superintendent assured me that since Pennsylvania required no specific certification to teach the gifted.  (That changed several years later, requiring me to take the Praxis exams, and become secondary-certified.  I chose English.)   With the help of my then-supervisor, Sharon, and the high school principal, we created a before-school program known as Period Zero.  The high school was, and still is, on block, and gifted kids had no time in their schedules to fit in another offering.  (Or so we thought.... more about that in a future blog!)

I still have the observation form from Mr. Felix when he did an observation in 2005.  "I can't believe this works!" he commented, referring to the fact that 14 - 18 year old teenagers managed to get themselves out of bed and into the high school library prior to 7 am to spend some time with like-minded individuals exploring a single theme each semester - by choice (or parental insistence).  To be honest, I still marvel that Period Zero continues to this day.

Today's prompt from the folks at Te@chthought is:

September 6

Explain.  What does a good mentor "do"?


As I reflected upon this, my initial reaction was to mentally explore the role I've played as a mentor assigned to three amazing teachers who were hired to absorb the elementary caseload when the caseload regulations were lowered by Pennsylvania.  Being the K-12 Teacher of the Gifted was a nice variety for me, but it was EXHAUSTING! Ellen, Charity, and now Sarah, have all been "mentored" by me as they began in the district.  They asked questions, I tried to answer them.  They looked to me for advice, and I realized how little I actually knew.  If there is one way to make a person humble, it's to give them the responsibility of being the person "in the know", and let that person realize how deficient she actually is in her present position.

All of this reflection lead me to google "Quotes about Mentors," and what I discovered was enlightening.

Most of the quotes in the list I perused referenced teaching.  Many referred to mentoring boys -- few referenced girls.  Some were tied to scripture and servant-hood.  As I read through the list, I was right back to my recently-revised educational philosophy:

"There are no students in my classroom." 


Making that statement in public might cause people to wonder why they are paying school taxes.  This philosophy evolved -- much like Dorothy returning from Oz, I knew it all along, I just never really refined or articulated it to convey meaning.  (And if thoughts are just thoughts, it stands to reason that philosophy can't exist until it's shared, right?)  Think about it.  What are students?  To me, the word "students" causes me to flash on Ralph Macchio as the  Karate Kid repeating and mimicking the moves of his "mentor." It wasn't until his character became a "learner" that he was truly able to respect what he was trying to do -- learn.  

When you read most of the quotes about mentors, they relate to -- or specifically state -- something about teachers or teaching.  Much of the current research available has created educational buzzwords including the following:

All imply the need for students to do, rather than listen.  It's not a new concept, if you consider the quotes on mentoring come from great minds over many centuries.  Shifting the mindset of my roster participants last year from student  to learner changed my perspective, my job, and my happiness level last year.   I dare say the same thing happened for the learners in my room as well.

So, folks at Te@chthought, and anyone else who cares, my answer is that good mentors inspire their mentees to shift their focus from passive student-hood, and recognize themselves as learners instead.  They construct meaning from what is in front of them, and ask questions to define and refine that meaning.  In the business world, mentors are assigned to assist someone in discovering what they need to know about their new job -- and most provide answers to questions that are actually ASKED of them.  Why would we think that serving/being perceived as teachers -- instead of mentors-- would be the most efficient way to get the job done?

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”
E.M. Forster

P. S.  :  Why yes, that is a student wearing a hedgehog on his head.  The student's name is Tyler.  The hedgehog is either Hermann or Pauline Einstein, parents of Albert.  And this year, it's not up to me to ask the questions -- so I don't know why!