Yet, it wasn't the formal mentor I wanted them to think about. I challenged them to find the informal mentors in their lives. The people, of any age, who we admire...who do things we would like to know more about...who possess a quality that we would like to see in ourselves. Find the people who do not set out to be your mentor, but because of what they say, or what they do, you notice them. And you take a cue from them.
The unexpected mentor.
Drafting with my first period class, my notebook entry focused on one student who mentored me. After drafting and sharing it, I used the notebook entry as an example for the rest of my classes--freeing me to move around the room.
An excerpt from my entry:
...I admire when kids say hello to one another, or say hello to me, or goodbye, or thank you. A few specific students say those things to me every day--no exaggeration. I've heard again and again that in order to gain respect, one must first give respect. And I look at those students as people who will never have to worry about respect. It is a part of who they are. Respect is their exemplar. The don't pretend to not see other kids in the hall; they don't pretend not to see me between classes. I admire their willingness to be the first to say hello or when they are loud when they say thank you.
Many years ago, a high school student (Becky) wrote an essay about saying good morning and hello. Her teacher shared it with me, and I don't think Becky ever knew that I read it, or kept it.
For several years it was framed in my classroom. In the letter, Becky wrote that our saying good morning and hello to one another mattered because so few people said hello to her--and she noticed it as a fourteen year-old. She let herself dwell on it. And she started to feel invisible in our school. She wrote that our hellos made her feel like that I saw her. I saw her: Becky. Not I saw her: generic 8th grade girl.
I kept track of what mattered to my kids today--the things they say they admired in others, the qualities in people that they wish they could infuse in themselves a bit more. Overwhelming numbers wrote about people who give their time.
I think about Becky's letter from time to time and pull it out to read it. When I do, I find myself thinking about eyes. And I am asking myself, right now as I write, who in this 8th grade class is starting to feel invisible. Or, and bless you if this is true, who uses their eyes to truly see others for who they are.
Credit: Stacy Moore
What struck me as I listened to my kids share is that they used the language "and they get nothing out of it." Meaning the identified mentor gets nothing out of it. In each example, they meant money. People weren't paid for their time and they noticed it.
Writing about and talking about the informal (or unexpected) mentors in our lives was worthwhile exercise today and something I anticipate returning to, now that I planted the seed of noticing the things about people that we admire.