Mentoring matters

“I love you dearly and my wish for you is to know your own strength, your own worth and your own potential, regardless of what the world throws your way. “

These were the words left on a handwritten bookmark by a truly remarkable human being when I left my previous school to start a new chapter in my career. There are those who have been lucky enough to leave their footprints on the moon, mark their territory on undiscovered wonders and cemented their names (literally) into history… But for most of us, we have all encountered experiences with ordinary people who have simply and unforgetably left everlasting footprints on our hearts. For me, this person is not just a now dear friend but she began as a colleague and will forever be one of my biggest teachers and cheerleaders. She is, in every sense of the word, a mentor.

By definition, a mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. This usually means someone more experienced taking on the role of “bird under my wing” leader to a much younger, more inexperienced subordinate. Yet, in my past experiences, some of the many mentors I have had in my career while older and more experienced, yes, never ever for one second viewed me as subordinate to them. In fact, they were focused on seeing my potential and were intent on making me a self-believer. They identified my strengths and helped me channel them in ways that benefitted both of us. They afforded me opportunities to be both student and teacher, and in so doing, opened my eyes to the value of collaboration and collective voice when it comes to teaching. No one ever knows everything and no one is ever too old to learn.

As teachers, we are so often caught up in the role of being a good role model and mentor to our students that we often forget the value of mentoring one another. As kids, we all have recollections of that one teacher, that one coach or that one team mate who pushed you to reach for the stars and believe that with hard work, anything is possible. It is because of those people that we are inspired to be that to someone else, namely our students who we see and interact with on the daily. Yet, if we really think about it, as adults in the work environment, who is there doing the same thing for us?As I’ve so often said, we can’t pour from an empty cup….. But somehow, we keep trying to.

If we’re really honest, how many times do we as teaching professionals really check in on one another – not just to clarify a deadline or to borrow a board marker, but really mentally tap in to where we are all at?

For me, true mentorship is about much more than just an expert teaching the more inexperienced. It is an opportunity to build up, help restore and grow a sense of self confidence and self worth that desperately needs tending to. It is easy for us as teachers to selflessly give so much of ourselves to our students that we feel we have nothing left for our our own families let alone for each other. But I would like to encourage us all to try reaching out to our teaching communities if even only in the smallest ways at first. Tap in to each other, converse not just about the politics of the school and the many complaints you may have, but about the points of strength in each other…. The encouraging words one may need to hear at that moment, or a positive email to say “I saw you”.

I could really go on and on about the specifics of mentoring, the different types of mentoring, the dos and don’t of mentoring but that’s not really where I wanted to go with this post. At the end of the day, an effective mentorship relationship is based on human connection and mutual respect for one another – emphasis on connection. No matter what stage you are at in your teaching career, no matter who you are… The fact of the matter is that life at moment is pretty damn hard and that is something we can all connect with. Forget about skills and expertise for a moment and simply just reach out and check in. Humanize things a little and ease up on each other’s expectations. Goodness knows how much that is needed right now!

Growing up and branching out

A teacher’s guide to knowing when it’s time to move on.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

M.Scott Peck

In January last year my whole world as I knew it changed forever and my heart grew infinitely larger than it had ever been before. In January 2021, everything that I thought I knew about love and life was thrown out of the window as I found myself re-writing my own story…a new story of who I am shaped by where I have been and reimagining the ‘me’ I want to become in the future. In January 2021, I became a first time mother and with that, my perceptions and priorities were no longer the same – I mean, how could they ever be? By entering into motherhood, I had entered into a sisterhood of mommies whose lives, hopes and dreams were no longer centered around themselves but rather, the little bundles of joy that so lovingly call us “Mama”.

All this being said, it took a few months after returning to teaching from being on maternity leave before I really started to take my loss of enthusiasm and drive for what I once advocated for so passionately, seriously. It is safe to say that the teacher that locked her classroom for the last time in December 2020, was not the same teacher and individual that returned at the beginning of May in 2021. If I’m truly honest, I found myself feeling as if a huge piece of me was missing every single day that I left my little one behind to go to work. Understandably so, right? However, I thought I just needed to give myself time to adjust to my new role as a working mom and wife…time to adjust to my new identity as a mother….time to just adjust in general. That adjustment didn’t come easily.

Not only was I longing for quality time with my son and managing the ‘mom guilt’ that comes with leaving him, but I was also finding it more and challenging to pour out my full heart and soul into my teaching as I had done for so many years before. And so began my journey of introspection. I began to ask myself, what is it that I am searching for? What can be done to help me attain that? Is it factors out of my control or factors that I actually can take control of? The result…

I needed to move on.

I recognized within myself, that I was struggling to pour into the lives of my learners and their parents because my cup was feeling empty. What had caused it to run dry you may ask? Well, I suppose it was a combination of many things that had been building up over time, but the most pertinent thing was that I was no longer the same. Becoming a mother meant that my list of priorities had changed drastically. Where I was once perfectly content to let my work and personal life overlap (especially given the effects of COVID teaching), I realized that for the well being of myself and my family, I could no longer let that happen. My environment was not feeding me in the way I needed anymore – this happens, and that’s OK. This is not to say that I am any less of an effective teacher by any means, I just needed to gain some perspective, see things from a different angle.

Should I have taken a break from teaching altogether?

Well…while I would have loved the extra time with my little one, the life long learner in me wouldn’t let that happen. Plus – comfort zones have always scared me and that is exactly where, six years later, I had found myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still love being a teacher, when I am able to do exactly that…teach and teach to my heart’s content. I love being creative and I love a new challenge. Yes, remedial education was definitely challenging but also draining, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I began to recognize that I can still love what I do but not have to give so much of myself mentally and emotionally. I made a choice.

Things to consider if you are wanting to move on professionally:

  • Do you feel stuck?- You’re living the status quo
  • Consider the comfort zone you are in – is it a good comfortable or a forced comfortable because there is a difference. A good comfortable is when you are happy to stay, you see the growth and you find security in the familiar. A forced comfortable is when you feel you have no other choice. You stay on because it is just “what you have always known”. My advice here if you are feeling the latter, don’t be afraid to take a chance. Rather take a chance and possibly find greater contentment and passion than remain jaded and uninspired. For it is when we feel challenged that we are forced to rise to the occasion and let our greatness out. Don’t be afraid of the challenge. Don’t be afraid of the change.
  • Constant changes are making you feel uneasy
  • The onset of living in a pandemic has undoubtedly whirled us all into what has commonly been referred to as “our new normal” yet nothing seems normal anymore. You have witnessed the walking in and walking out of new faces and old faces. Turnovers in staff have left you wondering if you will be next or what is there left to stay for? These are understandable questions and emotions to have but you are worth more than the stress of these unsettling changes. If you find that these changes are breaking you down rather than building you up…perhaps it is time to take control and make your own change. One that you believe in.
  • The work environment is no longer working for you
  • Have you found yourself working in an environment that is more negative than positive? You find it hard to find people to spend time with that are willing to just kick back during time off and not go off on a rant about the latest email, seemingly impulsive management decision or increasing workload. Negativity has become the cloud that hovers over you no matter how much you try to escape it and staying positive has become more draining than what it’s worth. This is not healthy by any means.
  • Distance getting the better of you
  • For many, their morning commute is considered their holy grail, their sacred “me time” and their time to just be. But for others, it’s a rushed series of events followed by the added pressure of traffic and factors completely out of your control and this drives you absolutely bonkers! Personally, I related to the later and just couldn’t do it anymore.
  • Family first
  • Shifts in your family dynamics, be it an addition or a loss, have caused you to alter your priorities and reconsider where you are centering your energies. Being closer to home to eradicate travel time and free you up for quality time with those who fill your cup is one definite thing to consider. I know that it isn’t always easy in this day an age as love doesn’t pay the bills, but at the same time, how can you productively pour from an empty cup?
  • Trust your gut
  • Never discredit your gut instinct. It is there for a reason. Our brains naturally use a combination of logic and emotion when making decisions of any kind. That specific emotion, innate to us as humans, is our intuition.┬áNo decision should ever be made without taking the heart into a account and visa versa. As a good luck gift upon leaving my last school, a close friend a colleague gave me a mug with the words “Always follow your heart, but take your brain with you.” These words could not have rung more true to what I had been feeling. I knew that as hard as it may be to say goodbye to what had become my comfort zone and ‘safe space’ of familiarity, I was no longer at a place mentally where I was happy enough to make it work.

So here I am, transitioning back into a mainstream environment, climatizing to a new methodology of teaching anf practice as outlined by the International Baccalaureate (IB), yet fully content and at peace with my decision. I work closer to home, am closer to my son and find that this change has reinvigorated not just myself but my family unit. We are excited for the possibilities that this decision affords us as we did not go into it blindly. My son can one day attend the school and benefit from a window of opportunities that unfortunately would not have been possible had I stayed where I was.

However, this is my story…the next chapter in my life. It may not be that easy or even possible for you at this moment. But my hope in sharing this all with you is to offer some encouragement should you be contemplating a change. The fact that you are even contemplating it means it is worth taking the time to do your own interospection. Don’t be afraid to delve into the depths of your heart, consider the needs of your family and put yourself first. You are worth it!