I’m not usually a group text person but when I learned that I was not allowed to sit in on my two mentees senior project presentations, I decided to send a quick note of encouragement to the students:
“Own the room, look them in the eye, be confident. Signed, the world’s greatest mentor. Oh and try not to (barf emoji).”
Now, a little context about the three recipients of the text. Two are girls from my golf team who are so headstrong and confident that they will simply crush any obstacles in their way. The “world’s greatest mentor” line was because the extent of my mentoring was to sign two forms and completely let the girls do their projects on their own. One project was about increasing awareness of gender and racial diversity and the other was a weekend soccer camp for kids. Both were awesome, both earned the highest grade, no surprises.
Now the third recipient was a little more complicated because I made him. Like literally I’m talking about my son Tuck who had the very interesting and entertaining idea to build bat houses for his senior project. I was not his mentor but I was the provider of the building facility, tools, supplies, and the encouraging daily reminder, “How’s the senior project coming along?” while the wood pieces sat in a pile on the back porch.
Of course, Tuck killed it too, “It was amazing dad. One of the community members bought my sample bat house for $40. And Mr. Ashwanden said I earned a top score.” Senior year has had its share of ups and downs and to see him beaming from this experience was a great reminder that things usually work out.
But the greatest lesson from all three was that it’s all about doing it on your own. I try to be the opposite of a helicopter or snowplow teacher and parent because I firmly believe that a big part of being an educator is fostering personal development. And by that I don’t mean ignoring students (which I do plenty of as well), but teaching them to fish.
“No I won’t sharpen your pencil for you because it teaches you that you don’t have to do things on your own. If you want something you have to work for it, I remember when I was in High School we had to walk 7 miles barefoot through the snow, and we wish we had pencils, we had to write using blood and spit…” I can get a little dramatic in the classroom when I want to.
I’m more of a submarine teacher and parent, secretly “misplacing” assignments so that students have to advocate for themselves, making intentional errors on the board so that someone corrects me, showing some provocative art piece then sitting down and letting the creativity develop on its own in the student’s heads. Sure, I spoon feed when necessary but not all that often.
I had a great conversation the other day with a 20-something friend who was homeschooled and now works for IBM in Silicon Valley. “My mom taught us to read and some other fundamentals then at about third grade she became someone who we would go to when we had questions but all the learning was done by us.”
And there it is, we have the greatest, smartest, most inquisitive and successful population in the history of populations and what are we doing? Following a path of BS that is leading us to the big end. Sorry to be so dramatic again but it’s kinda mostly true.
Is politics helping make your life better? It should be, you are paying for it (really Donald, 100 million on golf??!!). And not just the Washington noise, I’m talking about county and local politics. The potholes on Riverside Drive, the unaffordable housing, the homeless living under Verano bridge, all that stuff that we just take for granted but shouldn’t.
And is education making your life better? It should be, you are paying my salary (Thank you BTW). Are you living the Great American Dream or are you too busy running on the Great American Habitrail? Can you really do anything you want in life or is that a bunch of hooey? Have your kids had a great and inspiring educational experience or not so much?
50 years ago we put a man on the moon after president Kennedy said it was going to happen. He had no idea in 1961 how the hell to do it but that didn’t stop him, can’t we do the same with some of our current challenges? Less watching and waiting, more doing.
And I’m not talking about kicking your 18 year old to the curb and making him fend for himself. I mean let him fail and learn and discover and try new things and build bat houses and make the world a better place. Expect bumps and trouble and maybe some tears but know that in the end this is life and it just might lead to 40 bucks and a win.