I’m not sure when I got old…. but somewhere along the way I guess I sort of did.
It doesn’t feel like it was THAT long ago that I was in teacher’s college, trying to get my feet underneath of me in a pretty challenging world. I was trying to learn how to teach. I was trying to learn how to take the stuff that I knew — mostly a compilation of useless random facts that have been filed and categorized into something somewhat mildly useful — and impart it to rooms full of young, mostly only semi-interested minds.
It doesn’t feel like it’s been THAT long since I sat down at my kitchen table in a small little farming community in the Niagara Region, poring over applications to teacher’s college and wondering where I was headed. Would I be accepted to Western, and move to London? It was what I wanted. Would I be accepted to Nipissing, and move to North Bay? Would I be accepted to Trent, and move to Peterborough? Would I be accepted at all?? It became this kind of existential crisis where my entire future (or at least, what I thought I knew of it) started to hinge on the essays, the grades (which weren’t great, hence the existential crisis), and the shoddy list of volunteer experiences. I was afraid I’d end up moving to New Zealand to get my education (because Christmas on a beach), and my Momma was afraid I’d leave and meet a guy at the beach, never to return. Luckily (for my Momma I suppose), this was not the case, and to Peterborough I traipsed off… flung very quickly into placements where all of a sudden, I was responsible for the learning of teenagers. Once upon a time, I thought I wanted to teach 14-18 year olds… my how times have changed — My most popular Facebook posts are quotes from my Kinders and my Grade 1s.
Because I went to teacher’s college in what’s called the Consecutive route, I just did one year of schooling focused solely on teaching. There’s also this deal called concurrent education, where students take education courses interspersed through their undergraduate work, and do placements on Mondays until the end of their time in school, when they start to do multiple week blocks instead.
My first placement was a tutoring block where I spent 3 weeks working daily with a few different kids, pulled out of their classes, to focus on reading skills and help them with writing. I was privileged enough to work under an amazing mentor. She was my first associate teacher, and she and I developed a solid mentor/mentee relationship in just under a week. It was Cindy who I felt was the only one I could go to to ask questions like “how do you be a Christian and work in public schools?” when all my professors were making it sound like it would be impossible.
My next was teaching Grade 9 Core French. My associate teacher in that one helped me SO MUCH in understanding that there’s more to teaching French than being able to speak it. She gave me the skills I needed in three short weeks to help translate more than the language — she showed me how to translate the passion I had for kids to learn it, both in how she taught and in the feedback she gave me. I truly valued her mentorship.
Being in a consecutive program, we had “extended blocks.” I had 10 weeks in one placement. Over an hour from my house in Peterborough. My associate teacher and I clashed in nearly everything we talked about. Her ideas about how I should be teaching were not mine, but I assumed I just didn’t know better. After all, my knowledge base in Grade 11 Anthropology and Travel & Tourism was non-existent, so I assumed I just didn’t know what I was doing. I felt like I tried to be what I was being asked to be, and it wasn’t working. I was miserable, and I almost dropped out of teacher’s college during that 10 week placement. It took many, many tearful conversations with my Mom on the phone to convince me to just stick it out and if it wasn’t what I wanted after all, I’d at least have my expensive piece of paper.
I didn’t realize it then… in fact, I didn’t realize it until last year… but our mentorship relationship was not well suited. We didn’t fit. While she was a fantastic teacher, she wasn’t the teacher that I saw myself being, or that I thought I even could be because our personalities were so different, and so I had a difficult time learning from her. I had the feeling that she expected me to teach like her. That may not have been her intention, but I felt intimidated.
Fast forward a few (*cough* 6) years, and now all of a sudden, somebody somewhere considers me old enough, experienced enough, and mature enough to mentor others. I started last year with my first student teacher, and it took me a while to feel comfortable in that role. Mentoring someone else… teaching someone how to teach…. when did I become responsible enough to pull this off?
At 3:30 this afternoon, I said goodbye to two more student teachers. I took on a 3rd year student teacher in October, and then when the opportunity arose to take on a first year student who would be mentored by the third year (and by me), I signed up. It was an incredible opportunity for me, and, judging by the difficult goodbye the three of us experienced this afternoon, I suspect it was meaningful for them as well.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on the value of a solid mentor in the last few weeks, but particularly in the last week as they finished up a solid week block (instead of just being in on Mondays). It just hadn’t occurred to me that I could be seen as a solid mentor.
I don’t feel old enough, responsible enough, mature enough, or experienced enough for this to have happened…. but somewhere along the line it seems to have.
What about you? Have you ever found yourself in a spot where you were mentoring someone? Have you been mentored? How was that experience for you?