Tag Archives: mentoring

A Master’s Degree

If my ten years as a preacher count, and I vote that they should, education has been my day-to-day life for as long as I can remember. But education is familiar to us all, and I suspect that most of us have a similar picture when we hear words like “student” and “teacher” and “classroom”—and that picture is of learners arranged in neat little rows poised to have their brains filled by a knowledgeable instructor standing at the front of the room. Am I right?

When I was a preacher, I became particularly interested in the word “disciple” since the Christian Bible seemed to use it an awful lot. When I learned that the original word basically meant “student,” I thought I had a pretty good handle on that thought (see above), but it turns out that teacher/student/classroom in the Middle East a couple of thousand years ago didn’t look exactly like an American high school.

To grasp that picture, think “apprentice.” Instead of multiple teachers individually sharing various areas of expertise with a learner, picture a relationship where the student wants to become the teacher—to know what the teacher knows, to think like the teacher thinks, and see the world like the teacher sees.

Well, that’s a different show altogether.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking to my friends and colleagues in the Student Services Section of the Association of American Law Schools at our national meeting in New York City. My topic was mentoring, and I shared the following quote from poet, Ruth Whitman:

“In every art beginners must start with models of those who have practiced the same art before them. And it is not only a matter of looking at the drawings, paintings, musical compositions, and poems that have been and are being created; it is a matter of being drawn into the individual work of art, of realizing that it has been made by a real human being, and trying to discover the secret of its creation.”

A mentor brings great value to someone who hopes to be an artist, or lawyer, or preacher, or teacher, or butcher or baker or candlestick maker—just about anyone. A mentor provides the opportunity for a learner to be drawn into the mind and heart of a person to discover the secret of what makes that person do what she does.

Mentor possibilities are endless (and potentially affordable, too!). You could choose a specific living, breathing person with oodles of time for you. Um, then again, that might prove impossible. You could choose someone who moved on from this life and learn from that mentor through her writings, biography, or documentary. You could choose a combination of folks for various reasons, a “personal board of directors” as I’ve heard it called.

I am not proposing a complete overhaul of the American educational system. My thought is that we shouldn’t limit our education to simply extracting information from people we call teachers. People do that from hostages! Crawl deeper into the day-to-day mind and heart of someone who lived (or is living) this life well. And learn.

Better to Give (but Receiving Is Often Pretty Great, Too)

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

I’m not sure what lights Otto’s fire, but if I could bottle it I would sell it—and drink it, too.

The first time I met the dean of our law school, she asked me to locate the best programs in the country at connecting law students to practicing lawyers. Elon Law’s “preceptor program” was one of the best, so as soon as possible, and with permission, we started our own. In the years that followed, what began as a voluntary opportunity for our first-year students has now grown into a required first-year course component that has extended to create mentor matches for interested upper-division students, too. We now have 150+ practicing attorneys and judges giving their time to mentor students with more on the way.

And then there is Otto. Otto was a fill-in preceptor (read: mentor) during the first year of the program. He was named Preceptor of the Year during the second year. For the third year, we named the award after him.

We give Otto a mentee or two each year and then he goes and collects more like baseball cards. I have no idea at this point how many students—and graduates—now consider themselves one of Otto’s “kids.”

Here are the sorts of things students said about Otto in the past:

“From allowing me to use his office space to study for finals, to taking our mentor group out to dinner every couple of weeks, to giving me thoughtful career advice, he has done so much to make my law school experience both enjoyable and comfortable.”

“Most importantly, he represents everything that Pepperdine stands for: a person who overcame the odds and does good things for people on a daily basis. He is truly one of the most unselfish people I know.”

I attended one of Otto’s dinners for his “kids” last weekend, and as expected, there were first-year, second-year, and third-year students in attendance alongside those not even in law school anymore. It was a family gathering: relaxed, lively stories, laughter, and lots of smiles.

Otto would say that it’s a toss-up whether he or the students get more out of these relationships, but it appears to me to be a tie ballgame.

To be candid, I know exactly what lights Otto’s fire and am convinced that it presents itself as a potential source of joy for all of us, and that is pouring oneself out into the lives of others. But on the flip side, being loved is a pretty great thing, too.