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Chemistry: The #1 ingredient to successful mentorship

Cultivating the connection and chemistry needed to sustain a mentor/mentee relationship takes time, or it can come naturally.

Two people high-fiving, representing chemistry in mentorship

 “Who is that?”

The teenage whispers around the room weren’t actually meant to be quiet.

That was fine with me.

I was in this strange room filled with young people because my professor said I needed “observation” hours, and the woman who had welcomed me into her classroom had answered the phone and said “sure, come on over.”

I fell in love with journalism as a 14-year-old kid. By the end of freshman year, I told everyone I wanted to be a high school newspaper adviser. Six years later, I started my observation hours in this classroom of whispering kids to make that dream come true

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“She’s my probation officer, but don’t tell anyone,” Sandra Brown, the teacher who had answered my call, whispered back to the students who asked.

Shocked, the kids looked from her to me and back. Most doubted the story but wondered if maybe, just maybe, their teacher had a secret past.

Thus began my relationship with one of the most incredible mentorships of my life.

Mentorship is defined as the act or process of helping and guiding another person to support their personal development.

Janice Omadeke, CEO and Founder of the Mentor Method, says chemistry is essential to a strong mentorship. She is absolutely correct.

I retired this year from a long, incredibly successful, and fulfilling career as a high school journalism teacher. Little did I know that the initial moment of humor by my to-be mentor set the stage for one of the main reasons I not only made it as a teacher but thrived in the classroom.

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Sandra and I hit it off immediately. When I graduated with my teaching certificate and was hired by the school where Sandra taught, she asked me to take over the newspaper program. My dream, handed to me by a veteran who believed I could do the job.

Like all jobs, in teaching, there are policies, procedures, and company expectations to follow. Sandra’s mentorship extended far beyond the walls of my classroom and helped me learn to excel at the expectations. She challenged me to do more and be better.

More than that, her mentorship helped me through the rocky times of the job and kept me going when the simple fact is most educators don’t.

That’s the magic of strong mentorship.

As that new teacher who was given a chance, I didn’t understand how essential Sandra’s mentorship was or the work she had to do to make the mentorship work.

As Omadeke said, chemistry is essential.

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Sandra and I got along immediately. But I wasn’t Sandra’s only mentee. She understood the importance of the job, and she worked to build the chemistry that leads to a strong mentor/mentee relationship.

Sandra also introduced me to a core group of strong educators who were constantly working to improve the craft of teaching. Because of Sandra, I not only had a great mentor, I had a mentor group to help me learn the ins and outs of the job, a job that was constantly changing as emerging research showed new ways of helping students succeed.

Omadeke says the traits of mentorship center on comfortability, connection, and whether you click or clash.

Some of those elements aren’t always immediately obvious. As a mentor over the years, I learned it sometimes takes time to get to comfortability and connection. But if the immediate reaction you have to a person is an abrasive clash, definitely tread carefully.

A strong mentor is invaluable. A mentor you clash with can create havoc for your career. Trust your gut there. That clash feeling is also a type of chemistry, and if you feel it, for reason or not, it’s time to move on.

Today Sandra is one of my dearest friends. That’s not always where a strong mentorship takes you, but it’s great that it can. Now she can help mentor me through the weird wonderfulness that is retirement. I’m looking forward to it. 

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Mary Beth Lee retired from teaching in Texas this year after 28 years as a student media adviser. She spends her time these days reading, writing, fighting for public education and enjoying the empty nester life in Downtown Fort Worth.


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