I definitely have a few teachers/mentors that stand out in my mind and really made a difference in my life. They helped shape me and lead me to my chosen profession. They are teachers I would like to emulate. As I began my teaching career, I did not realize how much I would learn from my students. I was naive to understand the impact of meaningful relationships, how I could be a pillar of support and a mentor. I’m not sure why it came as such a surprise to me that I could be a mentor just like my teachers were for me.
I have an experience from early in my teaching and Athletic Trainer Career that demonstrates my ability to make a positive impact on students. The student was also my student athletic trainer, so we spent many hours working together. She was smart, attentive and eager to learn. She always went the extra mile and really enjoyed caring for team she was assigned. I could tell she looked up to me, but I didn’t understand at the time that she considered me a mentor. Inadvertently, her willingness to please and be at my side became a bit too much for me. At the time, it came across as being a clingy annoyance, similar to a younger sibling. I didn’t think about asking what else was going on in her personal life. Drawing personal boundary lines can be difficult when there’s such a small age gap. You want to show empathy for someone, but want to keep discussions professional. We knew a lot about each other, but it wasn’t until years after she graduated she contacted me in a heartfelt message.
The student explained how she suffered from anxiety and bi-polar disorder. Her mental illness really magnified during the stress of her senior year. She was self-managing her condition the best she could. She was diagnosed and started therapy after she had graduated. She went on to explain how she valued me as a mentor and friend, and how I helped her get through those rough years of school and mental illness. She acknowledged she was intense and a bit insecure, which is most likely what came off as “clingy” in my mind. She ended by thanking me for all I had done for her. I had helped her through a dark time by giving her a positive environment to look forward to each day. She hoped we could stay in touch, now as friends.
After reading the message I was shocked and humbled. Then I thought “what had I done for her?” I didn’t think I had treated her special or different from any other student; but to her she felt special. When she spent time with me she felt heard, she felt needed and emotionally/mentally grounded. She was able to have consistency in her life during a mentally unstable time. She was surrounded by people who cared. Now knowing what she was going through mentally, I felt guilty for brushing her off or being annoyed.
The student and I remain friends. Though she didn’t continue a career in Sports Medicine, may never tape an ankle or assist with a patient’s physical therapy, I know she gained life skills. She learned the importance of working as a team and I hope she felt valued. To quote Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Angelou). I hope my students can always sense that I care about their overall well-being.
Caged Bird Legacy, LLC. “Litographs.” Mayaangelou.com, 2020. https://www.mayaangelou.com/merchandise/. Accessed 24 June 2020.