So student teaching is a lot of work for the student teacher; but it’s also a lot of work for the mentor teacher --- at least, if we’re doing our job properly. Mentors --- the word comes from a character in The Odyssey who was mentor to Telemachus, son of Odysseus/Ulysses --- are the “wise advisors” who come alongside those new to a craft or profession and try to impart their knowledge and wisdom to the newcomers. It involves a great deal of both demonstration and explanation. So why do I take on this additional duty, when there’s still planning and marking and photocopying and marking and parent contact and marking lurking in my day’s background? Because it’s important work. Too often in our society, the accumulated wisdom and skills of older people are dismissed or denigrated or discarded as being out of touch or reactionary or obsolete. And maybe there are cases where that’s so, but there’s a heck of a lot that experience can teach, and the skills of older people need to be passed on to younger. Why should it be necessary that the wheel has to be constantly reinvented? And it’s not only one way, either --- mentorship doesn’t flow in just one direction: the older can learn from the younger. I frequently do.
Mentors are also great --- nay, essential --- elements in our stories. Why? Well, think about it: more often than not, protagonists tend to be a fairly clueless bunch. Now, maybe that’s unfair --- let’s use the word “unseasoned” instead of clueless (although sometimes, the two are interchangeable). Just as in real life, mentors guide our protagonists through the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” dispensing a word here, a modicum of wisdom there, and always, practical lessons garnered from their own painful experiences. And sometimes, as long as they don’t get too heavy-handed about it, story mentors can explain things to us readers, too. Just as we need mentors in our lives, so do the characters in our stories. After all, where would Frodo have been without Gandalf? The Pevensies without Aslan? Arthur without Merlin? Eragon without Brom? Harry without Dumbledore? Luke without Obi-wan? Katniss without Haymitch?
And look at that list. Why do all those mentors have to be men? (The same could be said of nearly all the protagonists on the list, too, by the way.) Why are we shutting out half the species? Or making them into Lady Macbeths? (Because it could be argued --- eww --- that she ‘mentors’ her husband, but definitely not in any kind of healthy fashion. Pretty twisted harpy, she is.) Reflecting on it, here’s a suggestion if you’re considering writing a mentor character: make the mentor female, regardless of the protagonist’s gender. I did, in Gryphon’s Heir, with great results, if I do say so myself. Her name is Arian (ah RYE ann), and she’s a crusty but extremely capable older woman who’s not at all intimidated by the exalted status of her young charge, Rhiss. Just what he needs. Really. She’s one part exasperation, one part philosopher, and one part forbearance, and I love listening to her speak when I transcribe what she says. (After all, she comes up with the words; I just write them down. Sometimes, what she says quite surprises me... which is delightful.)
So connect yourself to a mentor. Or connect your protagonist with one. In either case, you might be pleasantly surprised at what ensues.