By: Dawn Casey-Rowe

Teachers give homework. Mentors change lives. If schools replaced teachers with mentors, classrooms would be revolutionized forever.

This isn’t semantics – it’s a paradigm shift. 

I learned this watching startups (scrappy young ventures usually starting in basements or garages). At first, the urgency around the issue of having mentors didn’t make a lot of sense to me. But I found young entrepreneurs constantly asking about mentors and how to find a good one.

Finding a mentor is difficult because the best ones are very busy. It’s tough to march into an office of someone you admire and beg them to let you latch onto them, “Hey, you started three companies can you spend an hour a week teaching me how it’s done?”

Students are lucky, though, because they often have access to instructors who’ve done amazing things in life. And these instructors are required to spend five or six hours a week with them, guiding them to success. Most instructors are willing to do much, much more than simply assign homework. In fact, many educators would be thrilled to hear the words, “Will you be my mentor?”

If only we saw schools as mentoring opportunities…

School leaders attempt to build relationships among teachers and students, but very few educators see teaching as lifelong mentoring. Schools often assign mentor/mentee relationships like caseloads. We take the students doing very poorly in school (they are usually referred to as the bottom 33%) and they are divvied up among teachers. I might get last names A-L and another teacher in my hall may get M-Z.

That might work for a superficial relationship where we just check in with on another, but that isn’t a true mentoring relationship. Real mentors change lives. They teach students to create connections in their prospective fields, provide value to those with whom they’re connecting, and maintain long-term relationships. They teach students to shed dead weight, to move on when necessary, and they pick up the pieces when students fail, inspiring them to start again and to learn from each opportunity. They give them vision, one that lasts a lifetime.

I’ve mentored students. And these relationships continue far beyond the cap and gown.

Only now do I recognize the mentors in my life–the people who made me successful: a brilliant linguist, a martial artist, an unparalleled historian, a brilliant writer, a couple of entrepreneurs. These people saw something in me and convinced me to be a better person, often times without my knowledge. Their influence and insight changed the trajectory of my life. If this works for me, and works for multimillion-dollar business owners and CEOs, why wouldn’t it be something we give to our students?  

If we’re looking at best practices for education reform, we need to start looking outside education and into the world at large.

Mentoring isn’t about instilling in students the 3R’s; it’s about instilling in students the 3Ps: passion, persistence, and power.

As we redesign schools, we have a unique opportunity to find practices that work and use them. Mentoring is one of those practices. I don’t want to be a teacher anymore. Teachers give tests and assign homework. I want to be a mentor. I want to support students as they create the masterpieces that will be their lives. I can only do this if we make school less about the test and more about the mission–treating students like the unique individuals they are with gifts that will change the world.

Mentoring works.

Dawn Casey-Rowe is an educator in Rhode Island who is heavily involved with tech startups focused on educational resources.  She is a regular contributor to ConversationED, Edudemic and TeachThought.  Her blog is

3 Responses

  1. John Harkness

    This is very well presented and thought out. As a retired teacher who is also retired Navy, I had the background and willingness to share so many experiences and ideas with students that I learned traveling around the world. Teaching history and civics did not usually allow me the opportunity because of the time constraints. When the schools are attempting to clone teachers in all departments (High Schools That Work is an example), it becomes more and more difficult for students to see the real person behind the teacher. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Kathleen Jasper

      Wow. The kids must have really benefited from the real world experience you brought into the classroom. That’s why we have to foster those opportunities for students and teachers. Life does not operate like a multiple choice question. Real interaction, story, and mentorship are the authentic circumstances that happen in the real world. We afford those experiences to students in their academic lives.

  2. Tree Trimmer Jim

    Parents are mentors, always have been. The parent’s responsibility is to prepare the next generation to be parents, and the beat goes on.

    Compulsory education made it against the law for parents not send their children to a government run school. Government schools are guaranteed customers. Government schools are a monopoly in a high dollar industry.

    Parents are more interested in their children than their neighbor’s children and more interested in their neighbor’s children than the children from across town and more interested in the children from across town than the children from a distant town.

    Teachers who are not paid by the success of the individual cares more about the wishes of those who do control their pay. Parents, without being paid, are more interested in the success of their child than the teacher. Parents do not control the teacher’s pay. Therefore parents have lost their ability to impact the success of the child.

    The people who do control the teacher’s pay are not affected by the success of the individual students or the community. The people who control the teachers pay are affected by the wishes of those who control their pay.

    What motivates a mentor? The success of the individual. Mentors are like parents.


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