This I Believe

Matthew - Winchester, Virginia
Entered on April 8, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
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This I believe. I am a teacher. I teach. It seems simple enough. When people ask me what I do for a living, I reply, “I teach.” When I fill out my tax forms, I write teacher under “Occupation.” When I walk through the halls of my school in a baseball cap, and some adult yells at me to take it off, I boldly retort, “Hey! I’m a teacher.” It is straightforward. Simple. Teacher.

Unfortunately, despite the clarity of my job title, there is no clear definition of what my vocation entails. Sure, I am a teacher, and I teach, but what does it actually mean “to teach.” Obviously, I take attendance, I grade papers, and I tell students to stop chewing gum (well, at least I am suppose to.) However, this clarification of my profession leaves me feeling somewhat feckless and depressed. There must be something else to my job. Upon further reflection, I discover that maybe I am a brainwasher. I do try to “indoctrinate [my students] so thoroughly as to effect a radical change of beliefs,” but this definition seems a bit extreme, and a little creepy. Upon even further reflection, I discover that perhaps what I really am is a mentor, or even better a guru. I am an advisor with regards to academics, ethics, relationships, and life in general. Not a bad gig, huh? I certainly like the idea of being a Socrates to the next Plato, but it is not as easy as it sounds.

My job, and the role of a good mentor, is not to tell the students the answer, but to support and guide them to their answer. A good mentor, does not push nor pull, lead nor follow, but rather prods. Like Socrates’ gadfly, a mentor must provoke, chide, and occasionally sting his pupil. Not to implant the answer, but rather to invoke the desire to discover it. That is my job. A simple gadfly in the soup of the world.

I believe that as you go through life (i.e. college, job, etc.) you must seek out mentors along the way. Not someone who indoctrinates you with his ideas, or someone who accepts your every whim, but someone who facilitates your revelations. A good mentor does not always agree with your conclusions. The world is full of sycophants ready to soak up your wisdom, but they do little, but bolster a confidence that must need bolstering. You want someone who questions your decisions, but never your motives. Someone who empathizes with your plight, but does not take over the reins. Someone who helps you find the answers to whatever you are seeking, not provides you with the map. For if that is the case, upon arrival, you will find not the answers you are seeking, but rather the answers he is seeking.

A good mentor is someone you can trust with your life. Not in the physical sense, but in the mental and spiritual sense. You must be able to trust that he will help you discover the truth, and not simply hand you their second hand version. Epiphanies must be uncovered by you, and only you. Truth is discovered, not learned. The only right answer is what you find it out to be. It can not be inculcated, imitated, or inherited. It only comes from your own determination, and internal struggles. No guru, no mentor, no teacher in the universe can give you the truth. It is a journey you must go alone. As Plato said, “knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” A good mentor realizes this truth, and will help you reach your destination. This is what I believe.