A Mentor is Better Than a Master’s Degree.

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This is an Old Book Called a Dictionary.

This is an Old Book Called a Dictionary.

A principal gets fired about every 4.2 seconds.

Alright, that is just a guess. It could be quicker. But since I do absolutely no research for this blog, we will never know will we?

Dictionary.com defines mentor as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. It also states that mentor is an influential senior sponsor or supporter. (Note from wife: I thought you just said you do no research for this blog? And why aren’t you using Google’s Define: Search tool? Have I taught you nothing?)

On a side note, if you still have “dictionaries” in your school, burn them. While I am normally not a big fan of burning books, I will make an exception in this case. The dictionary was a wonderful tool 20 years ago, but so was a rotary phone (if you don’t get the rotary phone reference, text a grandparent).

A good mentor can help and guide your career. Under the right circumstances they can even salvage your career if you say or do something incredibly stupid (and trust me… you will).

I have had my career salvaged at least 14 times. Could be more, but there are just some “incidents” that I don’t like to think about.

The best thing about mentors is they perform this task for no other reason than trying to help you avoid the mistakes they made.

My personal definition of mentor is a combination of encyclopedia, fortune teller, and lawyer. With of course, a little psychologist thrown in.

In education, a mentor is a must. I don’t think you can survive in school administration without one. Or twelve.

Personally, I have had about 6. But it is early in my career, so there is plenty of time to collect more (not that I will do anything completely ignorant between now and retirement…).

Actually, like most things in life, quality is better than quantity. One great mentor can help make you a success (or keep you from getting suspended without pay, fired, beaten up, or sued).

Finding a good mentor isn’t as hard as you might think. In fact they usually find you.

There is a certain look that overwhelmed administrators get that says… I need help and I need it now.

The worst part of being a school administrator is that you are on an island. If you haven’t noticed, there isn’t an Administrators’ Lounge at school.

It’s you. And well, that’s about it.

The good news… every principal/superintendent in America is also in the same predicament. They are on their own little islands (sometimes the seas are calm, sometimes they aren’t… like on a full moon day).

This shared experience (and suffering) makes the more experienced administrators want to help.

Colleges and Universities do their best to prepare teachers to become administrators, but it is an almost impossible task.

They focus on explaining the job in very broad terms (at least in my experience). It is harder for them to teach the day to day skills that you need for survival.

And trust me, I am not exaggerating when using the word… survival.

It’s like the Lord of the Flies out here in administrative land. So you better get all the help you can.

And while a Master’s Degree is nice. A good mentor is better.

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16 Responses to “A Mentor is Better Than a Master’s Degree.”


  1. Pat
    on Mar 5th, 2009
    @ 5:18 am

    I totally agree! I think mentoring is important to keep good teachers and adminstrators. I also think anyone can be a good mentor and should start practicing it early in their careers. New teachers can mentor students, first year teachers can mentor new teachers, administrators can mentor teachers (I truly did learn so much from a principal that taught me a lot about leadership) and this also can be flip flopped. I have found through mentoring that I have also learned so much from the person that I was mentoring. It really is a two way street which is why I guess that I really believe in mentoring. I don’t mean being a mentor in name only (which I have seen in our district’s program many times) but I mean active mentoring – meeting, talking, sharing, and helping. Thanks for making me think about this again.


  2. Unklar
    on Mar 5th, 2009
    @ 6:40 am

    I agree that mentoring is one of the best tools that can be used. My only concern has to do with what I call “forced mentoring” and “over-mentoring.” For me, forced mentoring occurs when there is bad chemistry between mentor and mentee, but the relationship is forced to continue. I see evidence of over-mentoring in my school district. I currently serve as a “new teacher mentor” to 4 teachers, only one of whom is truly a “new” teacher. One of these mentees has four different mentors assigned to him. The bottom line for me is that there has to be balance and customization when assigning the mentor-mentee partnership. No blanket assignments that fit the definition of mentoring but fall short of the effective execution of valuable and meaningful mentoring.


  3. Mitch Weisburgh
    on Mar 5th, 2009
    @ 7:24 am

    It’s a good thing you’ve got your plurk group to vent to. Otherwise, why would you want to be a principal?


  4. Adam Houghton
    on Mar 5th, 2009
    @ 7:27 am

    Great post. I am wondering if the mentor needs to be a fellow administrator, someone you can comfortably confide in, or both. I agree about finding multiple mentors along the way. Is it simply a case of the more the merrier?


  5. UltimateTeacher
    on Mar 5th, 2009
    @ 11:00 am

    I agree that mentors are a HUGE asset to a new teacher/administrator. However there needs to be an understanding and a level of respect for the sparks to fly.

    My mentor was ok, she just never seemed to have enough time to meet, and such I became very quick of learning things through trial/error (more error though on my part).

    I feel for those teachers who are thrown into a classroom, without a mentor and told to “get it done”. There is a whole other world that lies between being a teacher and a student. A good mentor can truly be a lifesaver.


  6. Natasha Friis Saxberg
    on Mar 7th, 2009
    @ 7:19 am

    Having a role model is so vital in order to develop your self as an individual and professionally.

    As the founder of a free global mentorship community – Mentory.com I provide support to mentorships with an initial agreement, process support and evaluation. Mentory is a community that facilitates the mentorship process from the initial match to the end. Ensuring that you get the best mentorship process even though you have not tried it before.

    It can be quite difficult finding a mentor, because the relevant people in your own network might be to close to you. We all have mentor potential, and being a mentor also makes you a great protégé.

    But in the end it is all about chemistry.


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  10. William
    on Jun 21st, 2009
    @ 8:07 am

    Nice post and blog! Mentors are so important.


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  14. Laura
    on Aug 7th, 2010
    @ 4:55 am

    I am working on my mentoring skill. I don’t think it’s just about saying “good job” “way to go”…”hang in there.” The articles I have found on the web are fluff. Does anyone know of a good resource(s)? I will be mentoring another new teacher this year.


  15. CB
    on Aug 12th, 2010
    @ 11:47 pm

    Excellent post!


  16. Karyn Sanderson
    on Sep 14th, 2010
    @ 7:01 pm

    Interesting post about mentorships. I’ve found http://www.StudentMentor.org to be an amazing nonprofit that helps college students achieve their academic and career goals through free mentorships.

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