Some kids play sports, some play an instrument, others like to draw, I was a drama kid. In 7th grade I was cast in the school play as a “nerd” who had created his own pesticide, “Drop Dead.” (I’m not kidding.) It was a blast, and I was hooked. This positive experience came on the heels of a very unsuccessful baseball career. I didn’t have the skill set to excel in sports, but I did have the energy and enthusiasm necessary to perform well on stage. Seventh grade started a run that lasted through college of two to three shows a year, acting, directing, technical craftsmanship, and a really great time. Because of my love for theatre, I chose to become a drama teacher.
Anyone who teaches has at least one mentor who helped him or her get into the classroom. For some it was their master teacher. For others it was a teacher from their childhood. In my case I had two mentors who served in both capacities. My middle school drama teacher, David, and my high school drama teacher, H.K. both taught me in my youth, and served as my master teachers later on. Both men influenced and shaped me in wonderful ways that changed my life and helped guide my future. Without these men as role models from early on, I would not be teaching today.
David, my middle school drama teacher, had a unique and very positive relationship with his students. In David’s class is was ok to be yourself without being judged, a rare experience in middle school. In fact, you could be silly and make people laugh at what you were doing, not at who you were. David was the first teacher I had ever met who did not condescend to his students, but met them were they were emotionally, and could spar with them mentally and at their level. It was a unique and valuable experience. I gained confidence in who I was and began to trust my skills, my abilities, and myself however unrefined.
Our teacher/student relationship developed into a friendship after I went on to high school and college. When it became time for me to student teach, I knew exactly for whom I wanted to apprentice. I knew that David would allow me to not only “get my feet wet,” but also actually teach solo in his classroom. And he did. In fact, after my student teaching time was complete, David decided that he was ready for a change, and the principal offered me his assignment, which I gladly accepted. I knew that David believed in me from the time that I was 12 years old. I knew it because of the way he treated me with respect, and supported my decisions. David was a great teacher.
Another great teacher was my high school drama teacher. I was lucky to get two in a row. When I got to high school and enrolled in drama courses it was like I was in the presence of royalty. H.K. was a living legend. He had won drama competitions in California for 8 years in a row, and had even taken a show on the road to Washington D.C. Intimidating to say the least. The drama program at my high school was shared with our sister school; we performed our plays at the “cafetorium” of the sister campus. Being involved with the program and being a part of its history was incredible. However more incredible was being in the presence of a teacher who had led so many to success.
In my freshman year I was the only 9th grader cast in the spring musical. I continued to participate in drama throughout my four years. I grew to know H.K. as a man of integrity and passion. His passion for theatre was only slightly outshined by his greater passion for teaching. He cared for and appreciated his students, and we all knew it. Students would flock to H.K. like birds to breadcrumbs. But it wasn’t always fun and games. H.K. was an excellent critic, and held little back when critiquing student performances. Sometimes his views transcended the classroom into our personal lives. Not in an invasive or inappropriate way, but H.K. was always willing to let us know exactly how he felt about the decisions we made both on stage and off.
My student teaching assignment required me to teach both middle and high school. H.K. welcomed me with open arms. Actually, I had just finished a long-term substitute assignment for him teaching most of the 1st semester while he was out ill, so there was a natural flow when I returned during the 2nd semester. H.K. set very high standards for me as a student, and for me as a student teacher; one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me. It was a joy to teach in his classroom and after he too left for retirement that year, I was truly disappointed that I was not offered his assignment.
We mentor kids everyday in our classrooms. It might be the most important job we do. Sure, the three “R’s” are at the core of our purpose, but equally important is how we treat and inspire our pupils. Our kids learn more from us than just academics; they learn how to be people by following our examples. Their world is full of negative imagery and influences; teachers are one of the few positive influences in the lives of students. Being a mentor to a child is one of the greatest gifts one can give.
But it doesn’t stop in childhood. Veteran teachers who mentor young teachers also do a great service. David and H.K. were not the only master teachers who helped me get started. Another master, another David, took me and a few other baby teachers around to visit outstanding veteran teachers during our first year in the classroom. I gained more useful knowledge in a handful of days spent observing the pros than in all of my hours of teacher prep. David knew what worked, and was willing to share so that we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We were standing on the shoulders of educational giants. What a wonderful way to start a teaching career.
It’s very disappointing when teachers choose not to help each other out. We are a unique breed and we need to stick together. We need to continue to encourage, to inspire, and to help each other along the way. The more teachers mentor each other, the better mentors we will be to our students and the better and more successful our students will be in their lives, which will ultimately make our world a better place.