Where Would I Be Without My Mentor?

Posted by Ms. Lauren S. Hess, Oct 27, 2015 0 comments

As I reflect on my nearly twenty years spent in the arts integration field, I feel blessed to have had a trio of amazing mentors in my life. Without these three women I certainly would not have had the career I have had. As a first year music teacher in Buffalo, NY, without a mentor, I wished that arts organizations could do more to assist schoolteachers in preparing students for field trips, and to help provide deeper experiences for the students. I dabbled in creating an independent study in arts administration to start to understand what the role of arts organizations could be in arts education.

When I moved to Cincinnati with my husband, it was time to seriously study arts administration. Arts Education was my passion then, and it has remained ever since. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time and landed my first job out of grad school at a newly formed arts education organization that strove to create a new arts integration program for schools. This is where I was lucky enough to cross paths with three unique women – Marge Hilliard, Beverly Croskery, and Beverly Thomas - who had long careers in education and also had an intense passion for arts integration. They each brought their own specific point of view to the table: that of a visual arts teacher, an administrator and a classroom teacher. 

I was a sponge as I worked with them in the early years of our program creation. I learned from them in every possible way, including embedding the Multiple Intelligences theory into our work, writing arts assessments, structuring professional development workshops for teachers and artists, and the importance of treating teachers as professionals.

My work over these past twenty years has been to continuously convince people that the arts are just as important in the education of the whole child as reading, math, social studies, and science. Through arts integration the education process is enriched and made more meaningful. What amazes me is that I am still having the same conversations now in new settings that I had when I started twenty years ago. I remember my mentors telling me about the school board meetings they attended to convince board members not to cut arts classes. Some districts are still having those same conversations. It can be discouraging work, but when people understand the connections, it is a celebration for all involved.

Having been a teacher, I realize that the teaching profession isn’t always treated fairly and the general public at times doesn’t respect teachers. The demands laid on teachers are immense. The hours they spend prepping for the classroom, in the classroom teaching students, and correcting student work requires a commitment beyond what most of the world is asked in their professions. On top of all of that, teachers need to juggle the huge burden of accountability with testing, teacher evaluation systems, continuing education hours to keep up certification, along with parent meetings, and all the extra committee work in their schools. We are lucky that anyone enters the teaching field anymore.

A recent NPR story was published about first-year teachers, stating that teachers were more likely to stick with teaching if they had someone they considered a mentor. I completely understand because you need a mentor to guide you through all the landmines that litter the teaching field. Mentors help provide new teachers with support, guidance and the boost that is needed for success.

Lauren Mason, a first-year teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, shared these personal thoughts; “It’s so important to have someone there who will help you though the crazy times in a new job, especially with all the responsibilities of an educator. I don’t know where I would be without my mentor. I owe most of my sanity to her guidance and patience with my million questions. She has given me the confidence I need to have faith in my skills and gives me courage to try new things.”

I know that without my mentors I would have struggled. I am thankful for their inspiration, support, and friendship. If you are a seasoned professional in your field, think about reaching out to a newcomer and offer advice, answer questions and start to make a difference in someone’s life. If you are new to the field, strike up a conversation with a seasoned teacher at your school and ask the questions that swirl around in your head. You’ll be glad you did.

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