Mentors: The Greatest American Heroes

mentorHave you ever had a mentor? I mean a bonafide MENTOR? Someone who changed the way you viewed yourself, the world, your job… life?

I think the first mentors I had in life were my parents. God bless them. They raised seven children and a couple handfuls of strays along the way. My parents were like night and day. My mom nurtured us until we were a little younger than preteens and then she kicked us over to our dad. Our dad handled things from then on out. I think once we got to the point of resembling little adults, my mom just couldn’t handle our mouthiness. We were smart and stubborn. It was a bad combination.

My mom was strong. She was tough. She was brave. She taught me how to run with the boys. “No blood, no foul” and  “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch” were two of the things that often came out of my mother’s mouth when I would come in crying about an injustice while playing with my older brother and his friends. My mom was creative. If there was a project that needed doing, she figured out how to do it herself. She was thrifty. She KNEW (and still does know) how to squeeze blood from a turnip. She made our house run on the tightest budget of all time. She taught me that you can have a happy life without a lot of stuff. That you can make things beautiful no matter the situation. That a happy life has nothing to do with how many parties you attend or places you go. Happiness is a good book, a good conversation with a family member or a close friend, a quiet time alone doing something you love. Happiness has to do with being satisfied with who you are and what you accomplish.

My dad was a combination of a babbling brook and fire and brimstone. He knew how to talk to us, use metaphors to help us understand the ramifications of our actions, and then if we really needed it, he knew how to lay down the law. He lost his patience with us… a lot! But then he always came back to hug us, tell us he was sorry, and give us the tools to be better people. My dad was an example of hard work and service. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and he wasn’t afraid to give up luxuries to help other people who were in need. He was great with teenagers, active and spontaneous, and loved traditions. My dad was also a softie. He cried when my goldfish died. He showed me that sensitive people are also strong people. That tears and emotions don’t make you weak. Like my mom, he taught me about happiness too. He taught me happiness comes from inside you. That other people can’t take away your happiness if you don´t let them.

The next mentor I happened to meet along the way in life was my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Perry. He recognized right away that I was an introvert, that I had a hard time making friends because I wasn’t into kid things, and that I worked better with adults. (Funny that isn’t the case today. I´ve done a 180 flip.) Mr. Perry became my friend. He helped me through some tough things that were happening in my life that year that I didn’t tell my parents about. Mr. Perry had no idea I had these problems either, but he listened to me, made me feel valued, and continued shaping me into the person that I was to become. He kept in contact with me long after 6th grade, and even attended my college graduation when I decided to become… you guessed it… a teacher.

Fast forward many years, not that I didn’t meet great people along the way, to the next major mentor in my life. After a handful of years of teaching under my belt, I got this hair brained idea to move to a remote island and be a teacher of a one room schoolhouse. I would have to say that this move was the greatest decision of my life for many, many reasons, but the greatest reason of all was meeting Linda. Linda taught me that helping others was great (I was good at that thanks to my dad.), but that taking care of myself was also important. I wasn’t great at that. In fact, taking care of myself made me feel guilty. After having kids, I rarely spent time with myself. I didn’t do anything for my own personal enjoyment, rather lived through my kids. Which don’t get me wrong, that’s one of the greatest things about being a parent. Sharing in your child’s joys and worries and fears and celebrations is really rewarding. What Linda helped me realize though, is that I could be an even greater, more patient parent, if I took time for myself and my needs. So now when I am feeling run down, or frustrated, or upset, I think to myself, what would Linda do? Then I go get a pedicure, or read a few chapters of a great book all cuddled up in my quilt, or crochet a new something. What used to make me feel guilty, I now realize makes me a better person. If I fill up my bucket, I am able to have more energy and spend more time filling up someone else’s. Linda’s teaching has made me a better parent, a better wife, a better teacher… she’s made me a better person.

And last but not least, when I left that little island and headed back to the mainland (good things never last you know), I stumbled across my next great mentor, my principal and my good friend, Steve. Right off the bat Steve recognized something in me that I had seen in myself all along, but couldn’t articulate to others. He’d come to me with a book and say, “Hey, I just got this book in the mail and I am wondering if it’s any good. Will you read it for me and let me know?” I’d of course say yes, cause I’m a yes girl (another one of my blessings/curses that I am trying to balance) and take it home and read it… in one night. I’d have it marked with sticky notes with all my ahas and wonderings and we’d have a conversation about what I thought. I met other great mentors this way like Lucy Calkins and Katie Wood Ray, Debbie Miller and Kylene Beers. He continued to little by little pull me out of my comfort zone by saying things like, “Rebecca just got done reading this great book about ____, would you mind sharing a little about what you read?” Getting me to step out of myself and share a little about what I know to be true and right about teaching kids.

Fast forward eight years and here I am writing this while supporting teachers as an instructional coach. Yes, this introverted person who was socially awkward as a kid is getting up in front of adults sharing what she knows to be right about teaching kids. Yes it’s hard for an introvert to share what she knows with others, but I can be strong and tough because my mom taught me how. I can be sensitive to others because my dad taught me that sensitive people are strong people too. I can share what I know to be right with a group of people because Steve taught me that sharing what you know to be true is important. And if it is scary (which, let’s be real people… it is), I can take care of myself afterward because Linda taught me that taking care of myself is a valuable and necessary part of my life.

I am so thankful that my life took me across the path of all these amazing people, and I hope that my life will continue to lead me across the path of many more great and wonderful people that will shape my life for the better. Because you see, that’s what life really is. A compilation of learning. A journey of upgrades. I started out as Rebecca Rèe 1.0, and I hope to leave this life the best version of myself that is humanly possible. That I will have done just as great a job mentoring others as my mentors have done mentoring me.

UPDATE: If you like following the teacher side of my, my new blog Introverted Instructional Coach is the place to do it. 🙂

Enjoy the Dance! ;D

Rebecca Rèe

 

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