Saturday, September 18, 2021

Mentors have impact on learners

He’s constantly fidgeting, clicking his pen and playing Trivia Crack on his iPod. He’s much too loud for a library. Every so often, he’ll look at me and call me stupid or say he can kick my ass.

The whole situation can get pretty frustrating. He is my little cousin Ryan, and I continue to try and help him with his homework, not just because he’s family, but because there’s something so rewarding about teaching.

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with teaching. Being able to know how to do something and then show that something to another human being has a sense of beauty to it. The happiest feeling is when someone says to me, “I didn’t know that.”

In the spring semester of 2014, I was the teaching assistant for a web design class. The students had to code for projects that included text, pictures, links and other website aesthetics.

Not going to lie, it’s a tough class. Sure, we can all Google search and update our Facebook status faster than our parents can find the URL bar, but actually making those websites is a completely different story.

During finals week, I would stay in the computer lab for hours at a time helping students with their websites. Sometimes I would hit a wall and have no idea what the problem was. “Why does this website look all wonky?” “Why are the links sending me to 404 error pages?”

I’d get pissed, and I hated the issues I couldn’t fix immediately. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t leave those students hanging, and every time a student and I fixed a website, a rush of endorphins flooded my brain. There was something so human about it all.

This human aspect of teaching that I’m referring to is what Carol Lipszyc, associate professor of English at Plattsburgh State, calls the “relational self.” The relational self includes a rapport with students, in-class routines and a good dialogue between students and teachers.

Lipszyc said a particularly great moment in her teaching experience was when her students made wonderful connections between text and film she presented.

“It was a good day. Students were making meaning by connecting dots,” Lipszyc said.

Another moment she said she remembers fondly is when her students were so intent on finishing a blog project that they didn’t leave at the end of class. “We want students to not only be consumers, but producers of writing.”

Lipszyc also assured me not everything is going to go smoothly as a teacher. “You’re not going to be the first and last teacher for a student. It’s learning on a continuum.” In the computer lab, I wasn’t creating the next great programmer, but if I could show a student how to insert a video into their website, then I’ve done my job.

“You have to be a superman or superwoman to be a teacher,” Lipszyc said. She added that every teacher is not without their flaws, but teaching is a demanding profession held by “artists and practitioners.”

I agree. You’ve got to love and do what you teach. Otherwise, what’s the point?

“A teacher affects eternity,” Henry Adams, American historian and relative to the Adams presidents, said. “He can never tell where his influence stops.” This message isn’t just limited to academic teachers, but anybody who passes on knowledge to future generations.

Junior public relationsmajor Carissa Root is a teacher in the fact that she is a “big” in her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi. Root said being a big is like being a mentor. If her little needs any advice in sorority affairs or life in general, Root is happy to help.

“She looks up to me like an actual little sister would, and it gives me a responsibility to the whole organization,” Root said.

Teaching and learning doesn’t start and end with the classroom — it’s in all aspects of life.

I don’t care if my little cousin Ryan is sometimes difficult to tutor, because I know someday he’s going to be a teacher, too. Whether that’s to students, children, co-workers or friends, he’s going to love it just as much as I do.

Email Griffin Kelly at

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