Monday, April 20, 2015

Edu-Inspiration: A Tale of Amazing Mentors!

I am not the type of person who does things half-way. When I commit to something, I give it my all. I set goals, lofty goals of being the best at what I’m doing. Thank goodness I have had such amazing education mentors who have the same drive for excellence!

Once I made the decision to become a teacher, I knew what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I had amazing teachers in school who pushed me in all the right ways, challenged me to do better than I thought possible. Curriculum was differentiated, and I had plenty of choice and voice in what we learned.  Most importantly, learning was fun! I was engaged and interested, and I cared deeply about learning.  That’s the teacher I wanted to be for my future students.

I enjoyed my college classes, but I didn’t feel prepared to be the teacher I wanted to be. Even the classroom observation and mini-teaching practicum experiences did not help me feel better. Enter student teaching: I was blessed to have an amazing mentor in Deb Blaz at Angola High School. Mrs. Blaz was and IS the teacher I aspire to be. A highly sought after presenter and author of six books, I was just lucky enough to have her coaching me through my student teaching journey.

My husband and I had only been dating a couple of weeks when a casual conversation turned to my major and post-college plans. “Oh, you’re going to be a French teacher?! Do you know the best French teacher in the state used to live across the street?! Next time your home on a school day, we’ll set up a meeting!” my now mother-in-law exclaimed. And she did. The very next Friday I was home I went to the high school to meet Mrs. Blaz, who turned out to be even  more amazing than her reputation. A lowly college freshman, I asked her to please take me on as a student teacher in three years when I was ready. I was shocked when she agreed! I had the opportunity to visit her classroom several times before our actual student teaching journey began for observations, and I was always amazed by the level of engagement and achievement I found there. But nothing could prepare me for the inspiring journey student teaching turned out to be!

I had heard those horror stories of the cooperating teacher who leaves the student teacher behind after the first week, hanging out in the teacher lounge, writing a dissertation, or even leaving the building! My experience was nothing like those. Deb stayed in the classroom with me each day, constantly coaching me and encouraging me to improvement. She framed each mistake I made with concrete ways to improve upon them, and I went from nervously teaching my first, full 50 minute lesson in French to confidently changing lessons 6-7 times in our ninety minute block period in those twelve weeks.  We spent time each day debriefing, planning, and managing the 3 prep, ninety-minute block workload. It was definitely not easy, but it was amazing!

One of the biggest things Deb did to shift the mindset of the students was to include me from day one in the teaching of the lessons. She asked me to participate in the teaching from the very beginning, helping students fill in their passport hall passes on the first day (with the 4x4 block schedule, I was able to be student teaching in the spring on the first day of the new semester, new classes). About halfway through my tenure, Deb actually gave up her desk to me and sat at the side table where i had started instead. She thought it was important I fully take on the role of the classroom teacher, and that sitting at the “teacher’s desk” would play a major role in student perception. Really, this gesture did much more for me as the student teacher, changing my mindset of my role!

"Schreibtisch.2" by User:Mattes - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Unfortunately, I was not able to get a job teaching alongside Deb right out of college. I spent six years teaching in a district about forty-five minutes away. As a probationary teacher, I was assigned an “official” mentor, my friend Stephanie Mazur. She gave me some amazing insights on building relationships with students those first years; and I once had a student tell me she was the hardest teacher, yet the most awesome teacher. That’s exactly the teacher I want to be, pushing their learning while building relationships that can take that pushing!

Three years ago, I gained the opportunity to change districts and teach once again with Deb Blaz. Although I don’t get to teach French alongside her as we once envisioned, we can still share lessons and ideas like we did in those student teaching days. This year, I’ve even had more of an opportunity to collaborate with her as she is teaching one section of English!  

I owe so much to these amazing, hard working, and inspiring mentors in my life! They, and my PLN of mentors on Twitter, continue to push me to achieve greatness. I wouldn’t say I have achieved the greatness I seek, but I am trying to get there each and every day!
By Petey21 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Who have been and continue to be your mentors, in and outside of education? Have you thanked them lately?