Be a Hero, Be a Mentor

Article excerpt

Who is your hero? Is it Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., or your mentor? - If it is not your mentor it should be! Sometimes, it 's easy to rattle off people who are famous for making a difference, their influence is everywhere, and their impact is undeniable. But, who has had that kind of impact in your own personal life? Think back to your first few years of teaching, who helped you through the rough patches, who gave you advice about classroom management, who was always willing to listen while you vented? It may have been your official "mentor" or maybe the teacher down the hall, or another ag teacher two schools over. Regardless of what position that person held, they were a mentor when you needed it most.

The first few years of teaching can be summed up in one word: overwhelming. The guidance and support from a mentor can be the difference between a "one and done" teacher or someone who chooses to make education their profession. Between curriculum writing, lesson planning, classroom management, FFA trips & fundraisers, and countless meetings; simply surviving that first year is a daunting experience for young teachers. With all the unknowns out there it is easy to understand how a new teacher could throw their hands up in disgust and defeat. With the help and guidance from a mentor all of that can be avoided.

Mentors can be a powerful force in a young teacher's life. I know - mine stopped me from making the worst decision of my life: leaving the teaching profession. In Wisconsin, all first year teachers are assigned a mentor through the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators (WAAE). I was lucky enough to have Brenda Schei 1 as my mentor. Brenda teaches just up the road from me, so we were, and still are, fortunate enough to see each other at many different functions over the course of the year. The first time I talked with her she assured me that I could do it, I was what the program and kids needed, and above all I could face the challenges ahead. Amazingly, she told me exactly what I needed to hear. I had recently gone through ten different interviews in two states only to be told, I was so close, I didn't have enough experience, I wasn't what they were looking for, etc. Needless to say, my self-confidence had taken a royal beating. I finally landed my first job (one week before the school year was to start) and was sure the district had just settled and hired me instead of along term substitute. After that first phone call, I knew I could also count on Brenda to answer any questions, offer advice, or just to talk when a listening ear was needed.

Traditionally, after the first year the WAAE mentor program usually stops. However, it was not until my second year that I came to realize how important a mentor truly was. My first year had been challenging, but no more than normal. During my second year of teaching, I had "the class." All teachers have "the class," the one that makes all teachers reconsider their career, the one that when the assistant principal walks in for an observation, he draws a sharp breath in and at the end of the period he tells you, "That is an interesting group of students. …