As you begin your career, mentors are invaluable. They help you stumble through all that you do not know when you start. They are there to listen to your ideas, without judgement. They share thoughts and ideas that help you figure out exactly what you need to be doing. They support you by sharing their materials, ideas, errors they have made in the past, suggestions, and what has worked well for them over the years. They do not tell you what to do! They allow you to make mistakes. They give guidance in the form of their actions without telling you it is the only way something must be done. They allow you to be you without making you do everything the same way they do it. Mentoring is a give and take relationship where both parties benefit from the experience.
I have had a very long, meaningful, and rewarding career in education. I look back on the mentors who have been the biggest influence on my career and the path that I have taken. Mentors are the people who help us along the way, leading by example, keeping us on track, supporting us, and providing encouragement for us to achieve our very best! I have been very blessed to have many mentors throughout my educational journey and career.
Some were there before I even knew this was the path I was meant to take. They have all had a hand in shaping me into who I am and the educator I have become. We have mentors at all stages in our journey through life and our career. We are never too old or too successful to be mentored or to mentor others. The following is my homage to the mentors who helped start my career and made a difference in all that I have become.
Experience is the Best Teacher
I find it interesting that when I think all the way back to elementary school, it is not the math lessons, quizzes, or tests I remember. It is the teachers who encouraged thinking
skills, curiosity, and wonder through fun activities and experiences that I remember the most.
In sixth grade at Lakeside Elementary School, I had a teacher, whose name I cannot remember, who did just that. We had daily logic lessons where he read us a description of an invention and we had to use logic to guess the patent number. The student who was the closest won a small prize or treat. After a short time, it had us developing logic skills based on the year of the invention and information we were learning along the way.
By mid-year we were getting very good at guessing the patent numbers. It was amazing the logic skills we were learning with this activity. The other activity I remember vividly was a field trip to a limestone quarry to hunt for fossils. Armed with gloves, a hammer, and a sack lunch we spent the day searching for crinoids, brachiopods, corals, and the prized trilobites. What a way to get kids to learn earth science, history, observation skills, and most of all the joy of learning and finding objects from eons ago. That 6th grade teacher was mentoring us by instilling curiosity and the love of learning. What a wonderful and special gift!
Tip #1: A mentor provides hands-on experiences and acts as the facilitator and guide.
Asking the Right Questions
The high school and college years are where mentors point us in the right direction. A good mentor brings out the best in you and all that you have to offer. They do not tell you how or what. They ask the questions that you need to consider, allowing you to draw your own conclusion. They mentor us by exemplifying the most important attributes we need to see to make us better. These mentors are the people who guide us to our paths and help us be the best we can be.
In high school, I had three math teachers who started me on my current path. Mr. Paul Rutenkroger, my Algebra 1 teacher, would always challenge us to do our very best. He would say, “Be special, unique, be one of the few people who really know and understand mathematics!” He would say, “Be in the one-half of one percent!” This started me thinking I could be unique and special by being good at math. It continued my Junior and Senior year when I had Mr. Ronald Benz and Mr. Bob Ledger who were both math and computer programming teachers.
Mr. Benz specialized in logical thinking, going through the processes showing every step and every detail. That was a very important lesson for me! Mr. Bob Ledger showed us how to be unique and not listen to everyone else’s limited views. He wore a handmade, hand-tied bowtie every single day. He encouraged every student to go as far as they could and do as much as they could possibly do. He especially encouraged all the females in our class to continue with their studies in math and S.T.E.M.
Tip #2: A mentor encourages others to be the best version of themselves and to not place limits on what they can accomplish.
Make Learning FUN
In college, at Butler University, the professors who influenced me the most had some very special attributes I have mimicked throughout my career. There were only 3 math majors at Butler University when I was there. Dr. Richard Vogt was our advisor and mentor. He showed us the love and beauty of mathematics. Most importantly he showed us how math could be fun.
He was not only a math professor but also the Director of the James Irving Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium. He recruited me to be the Assistant Director to help me pay my way through college. I did all the school-age planetarium shows for students who visited. This was where my love of teaching began. I saw how much fun and rewarding it was to work with students and guide them in their learning. Dr. Vogt encouraged me to continue this endeavor and get my teaching certification in addition to my Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Programming.
Another professor at Butler University that had a significant impact on my education career was Dr. George Geib, a history professor, who brought history alive with his enthusiasm for his subject. I have always tried to show that same passion for mathematics that Dr. Geib showed in his history classes. Two more professors who influenced and mentored me were Dr. Glenna DeBrota and Dr. Jack Fadely. I took their classes in Human Growth and Development and Child and Adolescent Psychology. They engrained into all their students just how unique every student is and has the potential to be. It was more than words and information they taught us. They showed us exactly how those words and that information translated into helping students grow and perform their very best. Their love for what they were teaching came through in their actions. They instilled in us how important it is to care about students and always focus on their well-being.
Tip #3: A mentor’s passion for their area of expertise is contagious. As a mentor, look for ways to engage others in things that excite you in your content area.
Teaching is MORE than Lessons
My Senior year at Butler University I had finished all my classes for a major in mathematics and a second major in computer programming (a humorous side note the computer languages I learned and was fluent in were COBOL, FORTRAN, PASCAL, LOGO, ASCII, and some Machine Language.) I did my first 9 weeks of student teaching to complete my teacher certification at Guion Creek Middle School. My master teacher was Mr. John Shattner. He showed me things about teaching that I had not learned in my education classes at Butler University.
Teaching is more than the lessons you teach and the time you spend in the classroom. Teaching is also about sponsoring clubs, coaching sports, and attending events for students as a part of their lives outside the classroom. I took this to heart doing these things every year I was a classroom teacher.
Tip #4: Encourage your mentee to explore other interests and to become immersed in the school culture.
Mistakes are GOOD
The second nine weeks of student teacher was at North Central High School, Indianapolis. For this part of my student teaching, my master teacher was Mr. Steve McIntyre. He was excellent! He allowed me to make mistakes and come up with solutions for those mistakes without telling me everything to do. One of the best lessons he allowed me to learn was how to gage timing on quizzes and tests. He always looked over the work, quizzes, and tests I was giving to students. He looked at one test, for the Algebra 2 class I was student teaching, and said it was OK to use.
A few days later when I was administering the test, Mr. McIntyre showed up the last five minutes of class. Everyone was still working hard on the test I had written. With one minute left in the period, I instructed students to stop and put their pencils down. I realized the test was way too long. I quickly told students they would have the entire period the next day to complete the test. They grumbled a little but thought I was trying to be fair.
Mr. McIntyre talked to me after class. He said he knew the test was way too long, but he wanted to see how I would handle my error. He complimented me on my solution and share the rule of 3 or 4. That is where you write a quiz or test, a day or two later you make the answer key for the quiz or test you wrote, writing down every step. You take the time it took you to make your answer key and multiply that time by 3 or 4. That is how long it should take an average student to complete the quiz or test. To this day I have never forgotten that important lesson.
Tip #5: Allow your mentee to make mistakes and use them as learning opportunities. Normalize mistakes as a part of the learning process.
It Takes a Village
I was fortunate enough to be hired for my first teaching job at North Central High School, where I had student taught and already and had a relationship with many of the teachers and administration. I attribute this extremely fortuitous event for helping me have all the success I have had in education to this point.
The Math Department at North Central High School the year I was hired was beyond amazing. As a first-year teacher so many veteran teachers looked out for me and helped me more than anyone could imagine. They shared resources, recommendations, ideas, suggestions, and so many other gems of wisdom from their experiences. Their support led me to become the best teacher I could be. Mr. Al Weinheimer, the math department chair at the time, made sure new teachers, like me, didn’t get all the low-level classes all day. He would check in regularly, make sure everything was going well for me, and if I needed anything.
Mr. Paul Brown and Mr. Joe Fishers would keep things light and humorous and remind me to have fun and enjoy the wonderful opportunity I had been given. Mrs. Sally Ernstberger, Mrs. Jan McNulty (Wendt at the time), Mrs. Arlene McDonald, Mr. Rick Shadiow, Mrs. Renee South, and Mr. Joe Porter went out of their way to share resources, materials, ideas, and suggestions. They too would check in on me to see if I needed any help or support. They were always there just to listen if I needed to talk about classes or how things were going. They were always willing to discuss ways to help and deal with students and issues that might arise. They did not do this because they had to or because I was struggling, they did it to make our entire department the best it could possible be. What an absolute joy and privilege to work with the amazing math teachers at North Central High School back in the early 1980’s. They all cared about each other and supported each other in any way they could.
Fast forward to after I retired from classroom teaching. I began work as the Secondary Math Specialist at the Indiana Department of Education. This was a new experience for me. Two people took me under their wings and helped me navigate this new opportunity to continue my journey as an educator. Mr. Jeremy Eltz, who at the time was the Secondary Science and STEM Specialist and ended up being promoted to be the Assistant Director of the entire curriculum division at the Indiana Department of Education, was beyond amazing! He showed me the importance of networking and bringing in stakeholders with different viewpoints so we would get the best possible product in the end.
As the assistant director, he would start his day by going around asking all of us how it was going, what we were working on, and how he could help and support us. He is such a perfect role model of what a leader is and should be! Another great mentor was Mr. Bruce Blomberg. He was the Social Studies Specialist. He always found ways to help support and integrate Social Studies into other subjects. He made sure we never lost sight that we are all in the field of education together. He worked hard to make sure he supported and integrated literacy into every subject. He made sure we all remembered education is a team effort and we all had to help and support each other. I still try to do that every day in all that I do with schools and students.
Currently, I am fortunate to work with the best group of colleagues anyone could have. We all have a mentoring mentality. The owner and founder of INcompassing Education, Dianne McKinley, is a true leader. Education, schools, teachers, and students are the bottom line, not the money. She mentors us by example. She listens and invites input. Together we come up with the best possible way to do what we are doing. I cannot think of a better way to show how education should work!
Another colleague, Tiffany Creager, has already expanded my knowledge of teaching. She is mentoring us all by sharing her deep knowledge of educating the whole person not just our subject or a specific topic. In today’s society, making sure we consider all the outside factors, along with the educational topic we are presenting, is so very important.
Finally, the person who is constantly mentoring me on the necessity of being organized and documenting all I am doing is Sara Hasenfuss. She does such a wonderful job mentoring us on the power of communications, social media, and our webpage. Mentors, like Sara, work behind the scenes quietly making everyone look better. I am so very blessed to have such a perfect support system in place making what I do so much easier and so much better! I am constantly improving from the mentoring each person on our team shares with me.
Tip #6: Surround yourself with thought partners and together you can support your mentee to learn, grow, and flourish into an amazing educator all while continuing your own professional growth.
As you hopefully have read, mentors do so very much for us. If you are as lucky as I have been over my career, you have been influenced by many mentors. Each one brings their own individual strengths and benefits. Every mentor, in their own way, makes us stronger and better than we ever thought we could be. That is what makes mentors and mentoring so very special.
Great Books for Mentors