09 June 2014

Asking for help

I've had bad luck with mentors, at least when I needed them most. In my first two years of teaching in a startup charter school in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, my teaching mentors quit and left the school. At least I'm pretty sure they didn't leave because of me.

On top of that, I'm not very good at asking for help. Being introverted and stubborn, I tend to want to do things in my own way and bulldoze my way through challenges.

Luckily, I shared a lunch period with Karen Kazanci, an outgoing teacher of similar age and a bit more classroom experience, who was generous to share ideas, provide feedback, and offer reassurance. She is now the proprietor of Leaping Lotus Yoga, which provides yoga classes designed for young children.

She taught me that the most important act of mentoring is listening. When I struggled, she listened to my lamenting patiently and always responded with positivity. When I celebrated, she celebrated with me. When she offered advice, it was usually to capitalize on what she saw as my strengths.

She also seemed to know exactly when not to talk about the classroom and work.

The two of us were the only founding teachers to stay as long as we did in what was at times a challenging and intense environment. We contributed to what would become a healthy and supportive learning community in spite of significant obstacles. I suspect that our chats over lunch had a lot to do with it.