The following is an essay by Lacona mentor, Beth Clay. There are so many fantastic studies that point to the measurable impacts of mentorship programming. And then there are stories like these. Immeasurably subjective–yet significantly valuable–impacts!
When I was in 7th grade, I met someone that had a significant impact on my life. I don’t even remember her name, Ms. A-somethingorother. She was young, loved Hootie and the Blowfish, and had the blondest hair I’d ever seen. She wasn’t the old, boring, grouchy and incredibly loud English teacher. She wasn’t the disorganized, distracted and pushover of a Social Studies teacher. She had a gentle smile. She made a difference. Sometimes, she’d bring her daughter in before school and come find me in the cafeteria so I could hang with them. I’d play games and keep the little one entertained. I felt important.
I can’t remember her face. She only taught there for a year. Her subjects were Math and Science. I hated Math. I really hated Science. There was another class I’d been sent to her for, maybe something like advisory or spelling, inconsequential at best.
She was patient with me. I didn’t particularly enjoy my classmates; they were cliquish and I didn’t fit their molds. I remember her telling me I’d do many really important things with my life. I laughed, who was she to predict my future? When I was mean and pushing away my peers, she told me I was too kind to continue acting that way. When things at home blindsided me with challenges, she gave me a place to stay after school. She didn’t pry. She never asked anything that I was afraid of answering. She didn’t let me make excuses. I was never allowed to skip out on doing the work she assigned, even when we dissected frogs and I choked back sickness and sobs. When it came time to solve algebraic equations, she expected me to lead the class. Her consequences were predictable. I knew not to talk back, no to lie about my homework, not to take too long in the hallway or doodle all over my notes. She provided a safe space for me, just when I had started to question just how safe the world really was.
I really can’t remember her face. I can’t remember what her voice sounded like. I can’t remember what we learned in her class, or what my project was for the science fair. I can’t remember what decorated the walls of that classroom, or how often we’d meet for that arbitrary time filler class. I can’t remember if my peers treated her well. I can’t remember if she graded fairly through my eyes. I can’t recall unit plans or lessons. I can’t remember who sat beside me. I can’t remember field trips or events. I can’t even remember what I earned for grades in her class.
I do remember some things though. I remember when she encouraged me to keep pushing through the obstacles that I encountered that year, and did so in a way that I always felt valued and respected. I remember thinking about my career when I was in high school, and wishing I’d kept in touch with her as I wandered for years trying to figure it all out. I remember when she joined the coaches of my softball team in cheering me on as I knocked a triple into left field to win during the playoffs. I remember her quizzing me relentlessly for the state spelling bee. I remember when she’d walk by my desk during group work and draw a tiny little happy face on the corner of my paper. I remember feeling like she understood. I remember feeling valued. I remember feeling important. I remember feeling successful. I remember feeling respected.
I remember my first mentor. But, I’ve forgotten her face and name.