Note: This is a double-post here and on my blog about my internship with Leadership Education Uganda – The Mzungu Mentor.
A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century is the most recent book that I am reading. I love the philosophy in this book. I am excited to share it in Uganda. I find myself talking about it more with friends and acquaintances. I feel it changing my life – making me a better me. My self-perception tends to be fairly harsh, negative, and unforgiving. This is changing slowly as I recognize more fully that I am on the path of progression. I wish I was much further along this path than I am, but I have an ever clarifying vision of where I should be and how to get there
One of the basic tenets of Leadership Education is mentoring, and my journey through A Thomas Jefferson Education is full of revelations about mentoring. I’ll share two of these revelations. My recent academic mentors are major contributors to the change in my self-perception, and I need a formal non-academic mentor.
My recent academic mentors are Dr. Shane Schulthies, president of George Wythe University (GWU), and Mr. Stanley Szczesny, mentor at GWU. Their styles of mentoring are unique, and they both provide lessons that play important roles in my development.
Dr. Schulthies is a man of inspiring faith and a mentor who understands the true purpose of testing. My first semester at GWU was with Dr. Schulthies as my mentor. One of the things I remember most was his ability to draw concepts and language to their biblical roots. His love of the Hebrew language was contagious. I cannot think of a single moment in our discussions, simulations, or testing in which Dr. Schulthies’ love for the students and his faith were not evident.
A Thomas Jefferson Education talks about testing. Two quotes made me think of Dr. Schulthies. “The key is time and feedback: good teachers don’t just grade exams, they sit down with the student after the fact and use them to discuss and teach.” And, “The important thing to remember is that testing is valuable when done right-when the mentor and student sit down after the exam and discuss, debate, reconsider and coach. Almost any type of exam is helpful with such follow up.” Throughout my first experience with oral final exams, I thought how amazing it was that I was being mentored during a test. Rather than the expectation to merely regurgitate a set of facts like I was used to, my final exam was an extension of the instruction, discussion, and constructive feedback experienced during classes. It remains one of the highlights of my education.
Mr. Szczesny epitomizes another core concept of Leadership Education – You, Not Them. DeMille advises the mentor to “Set the Example. The best mentors are continually learning and pushing themselves. Read the classics. Study hard.” Later, when discussing teaching writing, DeMille adds, “write summaries of ideas from your readings and share them with your students, and so on. They must see you writing and they must see you re-writing. Invite them to read the various drafts of your work so they can begin to internalize the labor that is required to dig a little deeper and do it again, to analyze critically what had seemed just fine only moments before, to toss away irrelevant content even when you like the way it sounds; then, when you ask them to write and rewrite, they at least know that you are asking them to do something that is valuable and important to you.”
Mr. Szczesny is a great example of these principles. I love his experience with the “Great Books of the Western World.” He sets the example by continuing to dig deeper into the classics, expanding the depth and breadth of his education. He challenges us in class, but he also freely shares his challenges with us. Mr. Szczesny started a blog and has been sharing thoughts, insights, poetry, and questions inspired by the works he has been studying. One of his posts even shares the process recommended by Oliver DeMille of inviting one’s students to see one’s efforts to write, edit, and rewrite. It inspired me to look at old papers and consider revising them simply to practice that process. I encourage you to read it, here.
Mr. Szczesny has inspired me in class, mentor meetings, and through his blog to be a better scholar, dig deeper in the effort to become a better writer, and expand my focus. I am frequently amazed at his ability to rapidly assess a comment or an entire work and generate meaningful questions and comments. I hope to be more like him in that regard someday. I recently found a copy of The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell. If it weren’t for Mr. Szczesny sharing his experience with this book, I wouldn’t have recognized it, but I did recognize it and anticipate the opportunity to read it.
Dr. Schulthies and Mr. Szczesny are both great mentors, and I am grateful for the opportunity I had while reading A Thomas Jefferson Education to recognize how significant their mentorship has been for me. However, I also realized that I need a formal non-academic mentor to become the scholar I want to be. I’m not sure who that will be or how to approach someone to ask them to sacrifice and commit to that. It’s humbling to consider asking someone to invest their precious time in me and my growth.
A friend and classmate, April, posted on her blog a thought about making necessary sacrifices to get what you want out of any pursuit. I realize that I have been lacking in my willingness to sacrifice sufficiently to get to the next level in my studies. I feel that engaging and being accountable to a formal mentor is exactly the step I need to take.
I’m grateful for mentors like Oliver DeMille and his book, Mr. Szczesny and his blog, Dr. Schulthies and his leadership, and April and her friendship. Their various influences help me see how important a formal non-academic mentor will be for me. They also show me how important it will be for me to give my best effort as a mentor in Uganda.