The Teacher As Mentor

From the Desk of Kent Travis, Humanities Department Chair:

Our lives tell a story. This is something we may have heard often lately, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Our lives tell a story and we’d do well to accept this, remember it, and live out days in full awareness that it is true.

And we, like characters in a written or enacted story, need direction and guidance, sculpting and crafting in the part we play in the story we live. For all of us who have sat in a classroom and undergone the trial and struggle that is “education,” this direction and sculpting came in no small part from a teacher. Regardless of our age, most us can think back to moments when teachers shaped our lives. The teachers that “got it,” that knew what they were doing and the true spirit of their craft, spoke into our lives and steered us toward the good, the noble, the virtuous. And the others, the not-so-great teachers? Well, they prove my point that teachers play a pivotal role in mentoring us along in our story living.

This brings me to my point: Our lives tell a story, but we need teachers as mentors to accompany and train us as we journey into living a story worth telling and re-telling; we need teachers as mentors to accompany us in becoming a character worth caring about and remembering. As Dr. Daniel Russ puts it in a recently published essay, “Accompanying this journey from childhood to maturity and becoming a person whose life and death matter to others is the central work of the teacher as mentor” (75).

What does the teacher as mentor look like? Throughout his essay, Dr. Russ makes several remarks that clue us to what teachers do to mentor students into living “storied lives.” Teachers call forth from students a “vision of who they can become” (75). They “awaken” students to the “realities… [that] are really and truly there”  as they call out of them “glory and possibilities that even [they do] not fully understand” (75). Teachers “set the course” and “share the journey,” a journey “not into hothouses but into wildlife sanctuaries where the quest is not to pass tests but to embrace truth, goodness, and beauty” (79, 80). The teacher as mentor assists the student in learning to tell their story truthfully, taking responsibility for their sins, betrayals and failures, as well as full their successes (see 82).

There is obviously much more to be said on this topic of the teacher as mentor. I encourage you to read Dr. Russ’s full essay. At the least, I encourage you to remember the teachers that have mentored you along the way. Consider how you, too, might fit this role of teacher as mentor, whatever your formal relationship to students might be.

Read Dr. Russ’s essay here:


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