I was recently preparing to address a meeting of our School of Education mentors. These mentors play a critical role by helping our initial credential programs to fulfill their mission and vision statement: Teaching is a call to redemptive service. This orientation to the teaching profession lies at the center of both our identity and our activity, and our coursework and field work together to prepare future educators to make a positive impact in the lives of the students they will teach. It is our mentors who help students translate this identity into practice, as well as move inclination into motivation and natural talents into skills.
Mentors guide, support, interpret, encourage and gently correct as they prepare students for the day they begin careers of their own. They stand in a tradition as old as the education enterprise. Practitioners of all religious and philosophical traditions have looked to their guides, their tutors, their mentors to assist the young to take the place of their predecessors. Mentors become qualified by their education, perspective, experiences and even failures to stand in a trusted relationship to the mentee. These experiences build conviction and commitment deep into their souls. These deeply-rooted motivations, hard-earned and personal, can be loaned. Inspiration, surprisingly, can be secured on a short-term lease until a more profound authenticity comes along.
In Psalms 34, David, a mentor to the nation of Israel, if you will, purposes to raise the flagging hopes of some of his dispirited compatriots. He intends to inspire those who have not had his experiences, giving them a spiritual awakening that will allow them to trust in God. That is, to have something of the benefits of confidence without the necessary preconditions for it.
The psalm begins with a familiar appeal:
I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.
To ground his appeal, David recounts his experiences: times when he was in trouble, surrounded by his enemies, and his Lord delivered him—time and again! He relates how others who look on the Lord became “radiant,” and how the Lord saved the poor out of their troubles. Because the Lord demonstrated his faithfulness, David became irrecoverably convinced of God’s goodness and grace. Here now, he says, let me lend you my assuredness.
It is borrowed confidence that David hopes can sustain those who are afflicted. These troubled souls can even rejoice, though they have not personally experienced similar liberation. David hopes that his story, clearly and powerfully told, will sustain others through their dark night. He hopes the gift of his confidence can, at least, get them to the point where they could have their own experience—borrowed confidence cannot last forever—as they “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
We serve a Lord who walked this earth telling stories. While he was not the only one to wander around telling moral tales, he was the one whose stories, empowered by the life of his father so evident through them, changed the world. Message and messenger unite in transformation.
This is the model our mentors follow. There are great stories to be told about education. These stories take on a unique power when animated by one whose well-lived life is the vehicle for the tale. When we talk to graduates of our programs, many will say the most important relationship they formed is the one with their mentors. These guiding lights not only helped translate theory into practice but also lent a bit of motivation for the journey.
It will not be easy for first-year educators to survive their many challenges. We know the motivation for success will come from multiple sources, not least of which will be those stories told in their preparation. The same can be said of all of us who:
- Work at a place where we prepare those who will take our place
- Have learned some of life’s hard lessons the hard way
- Have “learned a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two”
- Find in us motivation that is etched deep into our souls
We say to those who have not experienced life deeply enough—through triumphs and despair, highs and lows, victories and defeats—who have not fully developed a capacity for sustainable motivation:
Here’s my story, you can use it until you have one of your own.