Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Reflections on Losing a Mentor

Susan Gaer, a long time TIMAC mentor, sent me this article about her first mentor, who helped her get technology in her classroom and then find ways to use it. I post it here as a testament to the mentoring process (this one was spontaneous!) and to the ability the Internet gives us to connect with the people we need when we need them.

Susan's Article

Most people think of me as super mentor. They believe that the "technology mentor" is a higher-level species who understands the technology they inevitably don't. That is not how I see the word mentor to mean. By dictionary definition it is "a trusted counselor or guide". To me my mentors and mentees always ended up being my good friends and trusted colleagues teaching me more than I could ever hope to teach them.

I found out on Monday, July 7, that my very first mentor, Leni Donlan died last year. I want to tell you about Leni so you can know her as I did. I met her in 1994 online with AOL's educational community. I was teaching a class of literacy lao/hmong and lahu refugees most with no writing system in their own language. Most of the people in the school at the time told me they had been in this class for a long time and expectations were low. It was a rural community in Central California and information and training was hard to come by. I found AOL's educational community and met Leni Donlan who showed me how to work the system to get what I wanted.

After I got what I wanted ( a modem, phone line and 386 computer) she helped me developed projects and chats with this particular group of students. The activities were great but the real learning took place as I watched students who were considered to be the most marginal in society start to make a difference. We participated in a post card project with a class in Ohio who we sent lemon grass to. They had never had lemon grass before so my students sent instructions to use the lemongrass. Next we read an essay about how a blind and deaf girl( I think I remember her name as Christie)could hear popcorn pop by putting her hand over the corn to feel the vibration of the popping.

We made cookbooks which bought us a industrial level stove and the book was purchased by "Legal Foods' in Boston.This led to Kathleen Ferenz and I doing a project where ESL students tasted condiments and wrote down their thoughts. Mustard was not a winner. I moved on to the post card project and then took a step on the wild side. I had my ESL Laotian tribal groups take a trip on Westward HO. I never thought it would work. There was so much culture to learn that the other students were brought up with, but when we all started baking Indian bread and learning line dancing, I knew it was one of the most amazing projects I had every participated in.

Leni would come and chat with my class on a regular basis and she said they could always hold their own language wise. She moved on, I moved on and that could have been the end of the story. However, the lessons Leni taught me have been the base of everything I have done since that time in 1994. Leni was one of the most important influences in my instructional life and she was also a great friend. That is what a real mentor is. Leni encapsulated all that and more for me. My students and I will miss her influence in the coming years.

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