Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mentors

This morning I read a terrific blog post on Nerdy Book Club by Mark Overmeyer. (HERE) Reading it, I was flooded with memories of reading mentors in my own life. My parents were, of course, mentors. They read before bed every night that I remember growing up. I had teachers who would recommend books, slipping them on my desk with a whisper. I had friends who I could talk to about books. Even extended family members who would ask me what I was reading when I saw them. Books surrounded me growing up and mentors were plentiful. My siblings didn’t read as much as I did, but they still read. Mentors are important.

Anyone who follows me on social media would know that I am still a reader. I take a ridiculous amount of photos of what I’m reading. I post photos of books, share the number of books I’ve read over a break, share photos of “to read” stacks. A friend recently commented to me last summer that my posts made her laugh, why all the photos about books? I shared my reasons with her then and will with you now: I know some of my students – current and former – don’t have people in their life that value reading. I am trying so hard to be that mentor for them.

Connecting to my students through Instagram. 
With every fiber of my being I believe that a love of words has changed my life. Because I’m a reader, school was easier for me, even when it wasn’t. While being able to fly through a book and inhabit an imaginary world on a moments notice didn’t always help me as much as I’d like in geometry, the ability to read and write well does pay off in school in all subjects. Being a reader and writer makes it easier to access information and convey what you are thinking about it. The love of words and learning took me into college where I became a history major. The desire to connect to children and teach them to love literature like I did, found me wanting to switch majors to education in my senior year. (I ended up graduating with that degree in history and headed right into grad school for a Master’s in Education.)

While I firmly believe a love of books and writing made school a bit easier, that isn’t even the main reason I want my students to find the same passion. I think people who can disappear into a book, shed tears for a beloved character, or have their heart race with trepidation as a character faces a challenge become more empathetic as a result. I’ve had a blessed life and it would be easy for me to simply turn a blind eye to the plights others face, to say they need to just work harder or be smarter. I’m from a small town that is pretty quiet with not a lot of diversity. It would be easy to be ignorant. Books have opened up the world for me. I think they’ve made me more aware, caring, compassionate, and curious.

Books, and writing, have also strengthened bonds. Many friends have become closer because we can talk about books together. Parents of my students grow to know me because of what I read and write. My students know me better because I’m vulnerable as I share my life with them through my writing. It allows them to feel safe in sharing themselves with me. And we forever have the bond of being readers and writers in our beautiful classroom together over the course of that school year.


I don’t take lightly being a mentor to my students, or to my own children. If I can help shape their life in our year together, if I can impress upon them the importance of reading and writing, I feel like I’ve done my job. If I can help them fall in love with the written word like I have, I think I have helped set them on a path for their lives that will make a tremendous difference. And, after over fifteen years of teaching, I know that sometimes I will see the impact of my teaching right away, and sometimes I don’t see it for years. That doesn’t stop me from trying. Teaching is a job that doesn’t have a beginning or an end. Being a mentor is something I take to heart. I work hard to be that within the walls of our classroom and extend to my life outside of the classroom as well. If we can just find that one book, help them write that one piece that touches their heart, it can impact their lives forever.
 
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