Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom: Happy Valentine's Day to my Teaching Mentor

I did my student teaching at North Pole High School in North Pole, Alaska in 1996-1997 with Pat Sheehan. I remember the long drive from my 12x16 foot cabin (no running water) in Fairbanks to North Pole, during months of subzero temperatures and darkness. Each day when I arrived at school, I was met by the smiling face of my mentor. Mrs. Sheehan was about to retire (though that was not the only reason for her smile), and she put a tremendous effort into passing on her knowledge of the teaching profession to me.

In addition to many in-depth conversations about teaching, we also kept a dialogue journal that we wrote in each day to each other. When one book filled up, we started another one. I have kept these journals over the years and use them in my current job of teaching future teachers. Reading my entries helps put me back in touch with the hopes, dreams and anxieties of being a new teacher. Reading Mrs. Sheehan's entries inspires me to do more, be more, for future teachers. Her writing has really stood the test of time, as this passage shows:

"One must care about a world one will not see" (Bertrand Russell). This quote, which we had on the board this morning, seems relevant not only to encourage the students to connect with the world of imaginative literature, in this case, Beowulf, but to remind you that you must have faith in yourself and the impact you are having and will continue to have on these students. You will never know. They will think about the things you say and the literature you introduce throughout their lives. A classroom is four walls with a future inside. Your influence goes far beyond imaginable limits. You will never see it, but you must believe it.

I took these words to heart--they gave me faith to persevere on days when I questioned my choice of profession. From observations about how students were responding to my teaching, to philosophical thoughts on the profession, to practical suggestions about timing and procedures, Mrs. Sheehan's writing in these dialogue journals are a wealth of information and inspiration.

When I finished my student teaching, Mrs. Sheehan gave me this beautiful book bag that she had made for me. I was overcome with emotion--she had given so much to me in terms of knowledge and support over the semester, a handmade gift like this was over the top!

That is why, as Valentine's Day approaches, I wanted to express love and appreciation for my teaching mentor, Mrs. Pat Sheehan. I also invite you to take a few moments to write about one of your teaching mentors in the comment box below. Better yet, write your thoughts on a Valentine and send it to your mentor.