Gifts of a Mentor

by Dr. Jill Klefstad - UW Stout

[MenTeach: Dr. Jill has been working to increase and retain men in her education program. We asked her to write about her experiences as a woman facilitator. You can find the other articles here.]

Cool fall-like August mornings certainly create a 'back to school mindset'. For me, the change in the weather incites me to prepare my mind and heart for another school year. Also, fall is a time to reflect upon my own personal voyage as a teacher. When I reflect upon my journey there are still certain teachers whose images flash in my memory. From kindergarten to college, to my role as program director in higher education, each year there is at least one teacher who I would consider a mentor.    

A mentor can be defined as someone who is an experienced and trusted advisor who guides another to greater success. When I read that definition of mentor, I am mindful of someone who has served in this capacity through my years of teaching. What I have realized is that the mentors we have had could also be considered our favorite teachers.

Each year when teaching the freshman class in early childhood education, I inquire about who these students consider their favorite teacher and why.  Students describe this teacher as someone who has a sense of humor, who was knowledgeable, approachable, and who believed in them as a person. The students further explain that the teacher pushed them to go the extra mile and was present to them, meaning they deeply cared about their well-being and success.  Most often, freshmen students tend to identify a former middle or high school teacher but sometimes they identify a PK-3 teacher who in some way has remained a part of their lives. Students express that this 'favorite' teacher was one of the reasons they chose teaching as a profession.   

Classroom teachers naturally take on the role of mentor without even considering the defined qualities of a mentor. Franchise Growth Partners outlines some of these good mentor qualities that are exactly the qualities of a favorite teacher. Some of these qualities include: 1) willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise, 2) demonstrates a positive attitude and acts as a positive role model, 3) takes a personal interest in the mentoring relationship, 4) exhibits enthusiasm, values on-going learning and growth, 5) provides guidance and constructive feedback, and 6) motivates others by setting a good example. Additional mentor qualities include someone who recognizes that each mentoring relationship occurs in a unique interpersonal context and a mentor is someone who communicates hope and optimism to the student (Rowley, 1999).

Since the fall of 2014 our student organization on campus for early childhood men, (M.E.N in Education), has made great strides in beginning a mentoring program. For every male enrolled in the ECE program, we have attempted to pair him with a teaching partner employed in the field of early childhood education. Last year we had an overwhelming response of willing male teaching partners to mentor these young men. The teaching partners included K-3 teachers as well as directors of childcare centers. The overall goal of setting up the mentoring system was to connect the male ECE students with a male teaching partner who would be willing to be a mentor.

Being a seasoned teacher, the best mentoring experiences I have had were always face to face interactions. However, in this world of technology at our fingertips, there are other ways to mentor that seem more appropriate and convenient for both student and teaching partner. Through social media including the M.E. N's Facebook page (UW-Stout ECE Men's Group) we are able to provide articles, videos and current information about teaching.  Some of our male students preferred contacting their teaching partners through emails and texts. As we set goals for this coming year, we hope to explore other means of connecting to our teaching partners possibly through Twitter and Instagram. One vision we have is to connect male teacher education students across campuses and invite faculty and staff, both male and female, of early childhood education programs to become mentors.

If you or a colleague you know are interested and willing to be a mentor to future ECE male teachers, or want to join our Facebook page, please feel free to contact me at Klefstadj@uwstout.edu.

Wishing everyone a wonderful beginning to the new school year.  

References
Ambrosetti, A., & Dekkers, J. (2010). The interconnectedness of the roles of mentors and mentees in pre-service teacher education mentoring relationships. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35(6).   Retrieved from
http://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1462&context=ajte

Franchise Growth Partners. (2011) Top ten qualities of a good mentor. Retrieved from
http://franchisegrowthpartners.com/mentoring

Rowley, J, B. (1999). The good mentor. Supporting New Teachers. 56(8) pg. 20-22.
Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may99/vol56/num08/The-Good-Mentor.aspx