A Mentor is Better Than a Master’s Degree.


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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The Dean.


Having a Mentor Who Has Jumped Before You is Important.Coming up with blog topics can be tricky. At least that is what I’m told.

People who believe this must put some thought into their blogs. Luckily, I don’t have that problem (lucky for me… unlucky for readers who actually want to learn something or be amused).

My strategy for writing a blog is quite complicated.

I stumble through life and ideas pop into my head. And since I don’t blog for a specific audience (just me… again, bad for readers), it makes it that much easier.

One of the benefits of working in education is that it is never the same. Each day brings a new (although sometimes complicated and occasionally horrific) situation.

In my part of the educational world, things go relatively smoothly. That’s not to say that I don’t get frustrated from time to time. Because it is (and by time to time, I mean every 7 ½ minutes… on a slow day).

I’ve been able to survive (barely… and it should be noted that could change at any moment) in my administrative career primarily because I have had good mentors.

This could be the secret to being successful at any job.

There is nothing better than finding someone who can serve as a guide as you traverse the slippery slope of (fill in your career choice here).

In my case I have had several mentors.

The great thing is that I have never had to look for them. They always pop into my life when I need them the most.

Usually, I don’t even realize they are there or that I even needed them at the time. But as I look back it is easy to recognize their importance.

I may be the luckiest person you don’t know.

One of my first mentors was a high school administrator.

He had all the answers to questions that I wasn’t smart enough to ask.

When I first met him, he was getting close to retirement and I was at the end of my teaching career.

One of the things that I didn’t know was I was about to conclude my time in the classroom and head off into the complicated world of administration.

If I had known this, I would have paid more attention to the stories he told.

And told.

And told.

Besides being an administrator, he also was a public speaker. He spoke a lot. I guess those two things go hand in hand (administrator and speaking… we do seem to like the sound of our own
voices).

He spoke at his school, at church, at workshops, at conferences, at other schools, at colleges, on the phone, at the movies, at the grocery store, on the street to total strangers, and wherever 1
to a 1000 people gathered.

I heard him speak in public maybe 3 times. He was good. I think.

For the most part I zoned out.

Mainly because I had heard all of the stories before. For free.

He had mastered the art of getting paid to speak. What most people didn’t know is he would tell you the same stories for nothing.

All you had to do was not ask. Just be in the vicinity.

While I didn’t listen as closely as I should have, some of his advice soaked in. I am sure of this because I repeat it.

A lot.

One of the things he told me (and anyone else who would stand still for him) was his thoughts on people going back to college for more education.

It drove him crazy when people said they didn’t want to return to college because they were too old.

We have all heard someone say, “I don’t want to go back and get my Bachelor’s or Master’s because I will be 46 years old when I finish.”

His thought.

They will be 46 anyway. Might as well have that degree.

Simple, but good advice.

And I use it all the time. And 20 other things he told me when I wasn’t listening.

Like if you take a job as a principal, remember the kids are more like adults than you think, and the adults are more like kids than you think.

Over the last 6 years, I have found he couldn’t have been more right.

I often wonder how many other bits of good advice he shared and I didn’t hear? I have a feeling that I should have paid better attention.

Like all good mentors, he never forced his beliefs on me.

I sometimes wish he had.

As I look back, there is one thing that he didn’t tell me.

That I should listen closely because he might not be around forever.

**Note from wife… In addition to being a mentor to many individuals in the field of education, the man described in the above blog is my dad. Super Bowl Sunday three years ago was the last time that I had the opportunity to talk with my dad. The next morning he slipped into a coma after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 60 years young and I wish that he was still around to tell those stories and give us his unsolicited, but very wise advice.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.