TITLE: Teachers and Mentors AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 27, 2011 6:12 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I'm fortunate to have good relationships with a number of former students, many of whom I've mentioned here over the years. Some are now close friends. To others, I am still as their teacher, and we interact in much the same way as we did in the classroom. They keep me apprised of their careers and occasionally ask for advice. I'm honored to think that a few former students might think of me as their mentor. classic image of Telemachus and Mentor Steve Blank recently captured the difference between teacher and mentor as well as I've seen. Reflecting back to the beginning of his career, he considered what made his relationships with his mentors different from the relationship he had with his teachers, and different from the relationship his own students have with him now. It came down to this:
I was giving as good as I was getting. While I was learning from them -- and their years of experience and expertise -- what I was giving back to them was equally important. I was bringing fresh insights to their data. It wasn't that I was just more up to date on current technology, markets or trends; it was that I was able to recognize patterns and bring new perspectives to what these very smart people already knew. In hindsight, mentorship is a synergistic relationship.
In many ways, it's easier for a teacher to remain a teacher to his former students than to become a mentor. The teacher still feels a sense of authority and shares his wisdom when asked. The role played by both teacher and student remains essentially the same, and so the relationship doesn't need to change. It also doesn't get to grow. There is nothing wrong with this sort of relationship, nothing at all. I enjoy being a teacher to some of my once and future students. But there is a depth to a mentorship that makes it special and harder to come by. A mentor gets to learn just as much as he teaches. The connection between mentor and young colleague does not feel as formal as the teacher/learner relationship one has in a classroom. It really is the engagement of two colleagues at different stages in their careers, sharing and learning together. Blank's advice is sound. If what you need is a coach or a teacher, then try to find one of those. Seek a mentor when you need something more, and when you are ready and willing to contribute to the relationship. As I said, it's an honor when a former student thinks of me as a mentor, because that means not only do they value my knowledge, expertise, and counsel but also they are willing to share their knowledge, expertise, and experience with me. -----