Teacher Mentoring: What We Can Learn from Each Other

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Glenn and I giving the ol’ selfie side-eye.

Meet Glenn. Glenn is my wonderfully enthusiastic, bearded protege and mentee. While I certainly try to mentor as many teachers who are willing to listen to my wild ideas and peculiar practices, Glenn is official. This year marks the first year that my school is positioning veteran teachers (in this case teachers who have been at the school for over a year) alongside newcomers (teachers new to the school, not necessarily new to teaching). I worked closely with a colleague over the summer to build our buddy program. We developed the program to be a support for our newcomers, but also to be a boon for our school. Research, that I should be citing, I know, continues to show supporting the professional growth of teachers continuously and with intention helps with teacher retention and student success rates. Still, beyond both the support this program might provide for new teachers to our school and the quality of instruction in our building, this program gives each of these teachers a voice. Like Glenn. I fully expect Glenn to speak just as loudly into my practice and life as an educator as I hope to speak into his. To get to what I mean, let me first tell you a little bit about Glenn.

I met Glenn by chance (if anyone knows Glenn, they’ll get this pun) or maybe fate. I personally wrestle with the timing of the universe and how people come into and out of our lives and its greater meaning, but I digress. I was at the GCTE (Georgia Council of Teachers of English) conference two years ago. At this point I was still a green doc student, but I was enjoying the many professional opportunities my professors at Kennesaw State University were providing for me. I was hanging out in a professor’s room with other peers when Glenn, a near mountain of a man, entered a bit sheepishly. The first feature I noticed was he has small plugs in his ears. The second feature I noticed was his enthusiasm. (I know what you’re thinking, not the beard? You didn’t notice the beard. Well my friends, he did not have said beard at the time.) Glenn radiated enthusiasm. He was simply thrilled to be at the conference and in that room talking to doc students and other professors. He soaked it all in like a sponge. I liked him the moment I met him.

It took another full year before me and Glenn crossed paths again.We met again at, you guessed it, GCTE. He had just waded neck deep through his first half a year as an English teacher at an urban high school in Atlanta, and he was there to both present his experiences and soak up the experiences of others. His enthusiasm was yet again palpable. So I did something I had no intention of doing–I handed Glenn my contact information and told him if he ever wanted to come teach alongside me in Gwinnett to contact me. That was it. He seemed grateful, and I left curious whether he would ever reach out or not.

Some time passed before I heard from Glenn, but sure enough he reached out via Facebook and asked me if I was serious about offering him a job. Now to quickly backtrack, by this time I had spoken to some of our mutual professors to learn more about Glenn, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Glenn, it appears, had impressed far more than just me in his time at KSU and in his classroom. Alright, fast forward again. I replied to his inquiry with a confident ‘yes,’ knowing full well I could not actually offer him the job, but I could certainly vouch for him with my principal. And so began us discussing the ‘how’ and plotting to bring Glenn to my school. Within a short time that felt like a small eternity, we successfully hired Glenn to join our ranks. What is extraordinary about this part of the journey is at that point I still did not really know Glenn. I just knew I liked him, I believed in him, and I loved his enthusiasm for teaching. Sometimes, you just know.

Now, let’s look ahead. Students arrive in our halls this upcoming Monday, and about 120 of them will have the privilege and honor to have Glenn as their sophomore English teacher. I am excited for Glenn and his students. You see, since hiring Glenn, I have gotten to know him, and his story is so very important to what will continue to shape him into an extraordinary teacher. Glenn was a high school dropout. He hated school. He never had a single teacher invest in him. Worse yet, his mom was a teacher, and who wants to be like their parents?! I will try not to tell Glenn’s story for him, but after years of working retail and feeling dissatisfied, he turned his eyes towards education. And thank all that is wonderful in this world that he did! From what I know and have observed, Glenn excelled in his course work at KSU and dove deeply into his learning and preparation for the classroom. With his hard work at KSU he entered that urban high school ready to conquer the world, and in a way he did. He was honored by the PTSA for his commitment to students and the community; he invested his time in his students; he worked to connect to kids who deeply resented school and authority; he sometimes limped into class, feeling tired and berated, but was his best for his students every day; more than anything, he battled the negativity of the teacher’s lounge. Still, the year took its toll. I imagine that is why he reached out to me. Selfishly, I am so very thankful he did.

I say all of this to make a very concise but important point–I will learn just as much from Glenn this year as he will from me. I do certainly hope I inspire him, support him, and help him grow personally and professionally, but also hope I am aware enough, open enough to let him speak into my life and practice as well. I want to let Glenn’s enthusiasm, passion, and drive to infect me and remind me constantly why I am an educator. That is my hope for all the buddies–I hope they all grow from their time together this year. If we do, if we all do, then our students win. Our students will reap the benefits of a teaching culture full of support, care, and reflective practice.

I look forward to learning from Glenn. He is a reminder that my own growth as an educator is never done.

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