Let’s Have a Frank Discussion About: You are Nothing Without Your Mentors

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the mentors I’ve met during this crazy life journey, and how I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many. It feels like a blessing that at the end of this trying work week, I happen to receive an amazing package from one of my favorite mentors, and one who is kind enough to read this blog frequently. Receiving this package today, for my 30th birthday brought me to tears for many reasons.

Many people walk through life going through the motions, not really connecting to what they’re doing or who they’re encountering. I think in most people’s lifetimes, they’re lucky to even find one person that they really connect with- much less consider a mentor. I’ve traveled a long and winding road personally and professionally over the last decade, and during that time, I have been (there’s no better term to use than) blessed to meet the right people at the right time who have guided me to the right things along the way.

I have to start way back when I was an elementary student. I had teachers that I will never forget who showed me that learning could be fun, that teachers could be more to students than just adult authority figures, and that I could make memories with them that would last a lifetime. In second grade and third grade especially, I had teachers that went out of their way to make students feel extra special- extra loved- and confident in their own personal strengths.

When I became a young musician, learning how to play an instrument for the first time (flute=dorky,) my band teacher was -well- frankly, kind of weird. This guy marched to his own drum, he was wacky, and he even had an odd scent. It was a little funky. But, I loved him. He instilled in me a deepening of music appreciation, taught me how to really listen to music, to truly hear it, how to read it, and how to appreciate it fully. I think of him often when I’m listening to all genres of music or singing with the band. He was the first person I knew in this world to pass away, and he did so when I was only in 8th grade. I’ll never forget the sorrow I felt that day.

Later on, I met another teacher in her first year teaching at my high school, one who had more faith in me than I ever had in myself. She guided me through things that I was academically uncomfortable with and eventually became my trusted confidant through all aspects of life. She also became one of my dearest friends. To think that the woman who once told me I would be her “best math student” (I hate math more than spiders,) would also become my champion, supporter, and cherished family friend- is simply something I can only look back on and feel grateful. How did I get so lucky to meet such inspiring, loving, and supportive people?

As time went on, my life took a winding path that I could have never imagined. I moved to another state where I knew no one, and once again, fate connected me with a new friend and mentor, one who opened her home to me and trusted me to take care of her daughters. I worked as her nanny, but she truly made me feel like a part of her extended family. I see the kids who were only two years and eight months old when I began working, growing into beautiful young girls now- and I feel so grateful to have been a part of that family, even for a short while. It was also during that time that this friend encouraged me to push myself, and enter the realm of Education. Although this would not end up being the field I stayed in professionally, it taught me so much about life and about my own passions, my own capabilities, and how important the role of teacher is in this world.

During my time in grad school, I began to think I had lost my way. An important internship experience was turning sour, and I felt like the resolution was out of my hands. Turns out, it was- and once I gave up trying to control a bad situation, I was almost immediately whisked out of it, and put into one that I believe saved my entire graduate education. I was introduced to a mentor who allowed me to student teach in his classroom halfway through the school year. He took a chance on me, and by doing so gave me a professional confidence I hadn’t had in years, along with an inspiration to create a teaching style similar to his; he was funny, laid back, interesting, involved, and caring. He connected with his students in a way I didn’t know was possible. He showed me how amazing teaching could be. Without him, I might not have finished my graduate program, nor be hired into my own 5th grade classroom immediately after graduation. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak much with him after that time, but if he ever happens upon this blog, I hope he knows how much his guidance and support meant to me.

Fast forward to a few years later. I left my own classroom at a charter school for the opportunity to get my foot in the door at a highly regarded public school system in Michigan. I hoped that a few years of “paying my dues” in a teacher assistant position would help me get to where I really wanted to be at that time-a tenured elementary teacher in the system. I remember when I found out I was being placed in a Kindergarten classroom- literally the day before school began. I was terrified. I much preferred upper elementary students, and never had the desire to tie shoes and wipe noses.

My first day in Kindergarten was a whirlwind. I remember watching my lead teacher/boss start her 20-somethingth year teaching Kindergarten, beginning with a new set of students who had a new set of issues and she handled it all with such grace. Literally, after more than 20 years, she spent the day with 30 five year olds and was okay afterwards. I barely survived! After day 1, I couldn’t believe she would come back to it and love it, year after year. But she did. And as the days went by, I began to gain an appreciation for Kindergartners. Yes, they pooped their pants sometimes. Yes, they could barely hold it together for seven hours away from their moms, but they were incredibly sweet, excited to learn, and anxious to please their teacher. She showed me that amidst the pacing guides, the state standards, and the politics of teaching, that you could still find ways to have fun with the Kindergarten babies; many of them simply needed extra affection and attention they weren’t getting at home, and any child- no matter what challenges they faced, could be successful. Most of all, she taught me that I should pursue what makes me happy. She was there for me during personal ups and downs, and became another dear friend. When she decided to retire at the end of that school year, she still took the time to keep up with me, celebrate my successes, invest in my life, and be a mentor through it all. Now, even though I live in another state, she has kept in contact, and this week, she took the time to send me a birthday gift, even though I told her 30 year olds were too old for gifts. She is a beautiful person, and saying that I’m grateful to have her in my life isn’t enough. There aren’t words.

After a summer of starting new jobs, ending new jobs, and beginning again, I have felt more thankful than ever that life has blessed me with these friends, guardian angels, and mentors that have gotten me through some of the hardest times, and been at my side during some of the best times of my life. It’s probably no coincidence that all of them are teachers. I believe teachers are some of the most priceless gifts we have in society, and until you’ve walked in those shoes, you never know how hard they work or what obstacles they face. I also know some of them are sweet enough to read this silly blog. Thank you. I hope you know who you are. Please know- you have touched my life in ways I cannot fully put into words. I am forever grateful to you, and hope to pass on the same kindness and inspiration that you’ve shown to me.

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