Lately, the idea of mentoring has been on my mind.  I have recognized the importance of several mentors in my life and I keep recognizing the continued influence of still more mentors in my life.  They have offered me guidance, both explicitly and implicitly.  They have offered me encouragement and reassurance.  They have have offered me friendship.

But what is a mentor? What should a mentor do? And how can we be a better mentor?

A mentor can be your supervisor, your teacher, your fellow teacher, your fellow student, your friend, your relative, and all of the above.  It doesn’t have to be a formalized mentoring relationship, just a supportive one.  But do not forget that a teacher is an mentor.

Some things that mentors can do or offer:

  • Advice about career options
  • Advice about lesson plans
  • Worksheets, handouts, and syllabi — especially helpful when a teacher is starting a new school, job, or course
  • Feedback and suggestions — on teaching, on research, on anything
  • Bibliography
  • Encouragement
  • Reassurance
  • A sympathetic ear
  • A good conversation
  • Knowledge about an organization and its members
  • Institutional memory about a school
  • Knowledge and advice about an application process
  • Friendship
  • Knowledge about a new city
  • Introductions to a new field — for example, making sure that students know about and know how to use standard Latin and Greek resource books
  • Introductions to a new research method — for example, making sure that students know about research databases or cool resources your library offers, or making sure a colleague finds the most useful articles

Of course, mentoring, like any relationship, requires multiple people.  If one person is not interested in receiving the mentoring, you cannot force it upon them.  Use your energy wisely, but do make sure to mentor those students and teachers who show great promise.  Give people the tools to succeed, not just knowledge.

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