“I need to attend to an emergency, so Jared will be leading your discussion of “A Doll’s House” today. Are you up for that, Jared?”
“Uh, sure!” I stammered.
I was a senior in high school. That morning culminated years of mentorship by a single teacher.
As a freshman three years earlier, I often left lunch a few minutes early to come to Ms. Hawthorne’s class, where she would take interest in my other classes and my life outside of school. Senior year I asked to become her teaching assistant. Between countless trips to the copy room, Ms. Hawthorne shared advice about the decisions I would soon make about college and my career, in between discussions about writing and literature.
When Ms. Hawthorne called on me to lead that discussion, I was nervous. But I also knew I was prepared, thanks to her consistent mentoring through the years.
My memory is hazy on the details from that day, but there’s one thing I remember clearly from when I left Ms. Hawthorne’s class that morning: My life’s path lay before me. I knew I wanted to become an educator.
I had never felt so present or electrified while leading the discussion. Witnessing my peers draw connections and assisting them in creating meaning out of complex material was especially gratifying — something I knew I wanted to capitalize on.
I went on to become a high school English teacher, and Ms. Hawthorne served as my role model. I strived to be a guide and mentor to each of my students in the same way she had been for me.
One mentor-mentee relationship, in particular, reminded me of the relationship I had with Ms. Hawthorne, which had me frequently recalling and channelling Ms. Hawthorne’s care and guidance. I’ll call this mentee Peter.
Peter often came to my room outside of class for extra help and to chat about life. I learned about Peter’s fascination with oceanography, about his challenges with a learning disability, and about his challenging home life. I also saw him make dramatic progress in his writing abilities as he sought and applied my feedback on writing assignments in my class and others.
During his senior year, Peter gave me the greatest gift of all by asking me to write a letter of recommendation for a competitive need-based scholarship. I poured my heart into writing that letter, knowing that I had a unique insight into Peter’s challenges, gifts and accomplishments.
One of the proudest moments of my teaching career was the day I found Peter outside my door as I arrived in the morning, waiting to tell me that he had been awarded the scholarship.
Mentorship changes lives. My career in education is a direct result of the compassionate, authentic interest that Ms. Hawthorne took in me. And that produced the fire within me to pay it forward in a small way by mentoring Peter and taking part in his growth and development.
As stewards of our students’ futures, we must not leave mentorship to chance. All students deserve the opportunity to be fully seen and heard by caring educators and people who can advocate for them, challenge them, and help launch them onto the path of their dreams.
Jared Chandler, Clearfield, began his career in education as a high school English teacher in rural Wyoming, where he spent nearly a decade. He is now a school and district success manager at Summit Learning.