Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Mentoring for Personal and Professional Success: Personal Reflections

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Mentoring for Personal and Professional Success: Personal Reflections

Article excerpt

Mentoring has both a narrow and a broad meaning. In the professional world, a mentor is a wise and experienced adviser--someone who supports us as we grow toward the full measure of our professional aspirations. Yet a mentor is also a counselor and teacher. This kind of mentoring happens any time a respected person helps us make course corrections in our development.

It seems that we are not intentional about seeking or providing mentoring. It often seems to be the result of happenstance. I did not feel mentored through public and undergraduate education or even a Master's degree. When I started a job as a high school teacher there was never a hint that some conscious and deliberate guidance would be provided for a green teacher. I suppose the default assumption was that, if you have finished college, you are ready for the realities of the classroom. I believe that assumption is unjustified.

After a dozen years in public education, I returned to graduate school for a PhD in Family and Child Development. In that program, I received some of the best mentoring I have received. In the twenty-plus years since then, I have tried to be more intentional about mentoring, and I have experienced how beneficial it can be.

I often am surprised to realize that I assume--in spite of contrary experience--that my students and colleagues know everything I know. I assume that I have nothing useful to share with them. I should know better. Each of us has a set of experiences that can benefit those with whom we work. I have experience I can share with you. You have experiences that can benefit me. Mentoring can make a big difference.

Early Mentoring

My first recollection of anything resembling mentoring was from my fifth grade teacher, Rhea Bailey. I do not remember many details about her teaching. What I do remember is that she valued me. Though I was a goofy and thoughtless little boy, she made it clear that I was important to her. On my report card she wrote to my parents: "It is a pleasure to have Wallace in my class." I glowed.

On the last day of the school year, Mrs. Bailey sent me home with a sealed envelope. She told me to open it when I was with my parents. I was tempted to panic. What if she reported the accumulated misdeeds of the year to my parents? But, being a dutiful little boy, I did as I was told. When I opened the envelope, my parents and I found two things. On a half-sheet of lined paper, she wrote: "Dear Wallace, It has been such a joy to teach you. I expect great things of you, Wallace, because the Lord has blessed you with many talents. Let me know what you are doing as the years go by. Sincerely, Mrs. Rhea Bailey."

The other item in the envelope was a piece of construction paper cut out in the form of a state-fair ribbon. On the circle she had written my name: Wallace. On each of the two tails she had written a quality she saw in me: Scholarship; Personality. As you might imagine, both items from Mrs. Bailey are still in my childhood scrapbook. I am still warmed by her support. Mrs. Bailey shined a bright light into my life that continues to guide my path.

Good mentoring is more than technique. The heart of it is support and encouragement. It is based on relationships.

I hardly expected that she would teach me again decades after elementary school. Actually, Mrs. Bailey was long since departed when I wrote a magazine article that told about her. One of her descendants called me and I gladly shared with the family my reminiscences and copies of her kind note and "award." In return, the family sent me a copy of her biography. It was only then that I discovered that Mrs. Bailey was a young woman with three young children when her husband spiraled into a brain cancer that quickly took his life. She found herself a grieving and unprepared widow. She cared for her children and put herself through the university. And she became a teacher at Libby Edward Elementary School. Little did I know or appreciate, when I was a child, that Mrs. …

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