Fletcher’s Views of Mentors

“Our classrooms are filled with students desperate for adults who care about writing and books as much as they do” (10).

“Young writers are deeply vulnerable to teachers’ appraisals of their stories, poems, or essays. We must speak to our students with an honesty tempered by compassion: Our words will literally define the ways they perceive themselves as writers.” (19)

Common characteristics of all mentors:

1. A mentor has high standards.
a. “A mentor does not praise mediocre work. A mentor knows the sound and the feel of language skillfully used…. The mentor’s high standards inspire the young writer not to lower his or her own standards.” (13)

2. A mentor builds on strengths.
a. Like a good music teacher, the writing teacher endures the bad melodies and shaky rhythms, stays patient, and picks out moments when the writing works well. It might be but a sentence…. Even in a “bad” piece of writing, the mentor reaches into the chaos, names it, and makes the writer aware of this emerging skill with words” (14)
b. “A mentor builds on strengths, often seeing more in a student’s work than the student sees.” (15)

3. A mentor values originality and diversity.
a. “A true mentor will not try to penalize the student or clone a duplicate of himself. Rather, the mentor is forever alive to the possibility of something new and distinctly original.” (16)
b. “A mentor possesses an inner honesty, an ability to recognize that the novice’s different style of writing may camouflage a deeper truth: the novice writes better than the teacher. It requires courage and real humility to recognize this and step graciously out of the way.” (16)

4. A mentor encourages students to take risks.
a. “Any writer who labors under such a right/wrong schema will never allow herself the fluency and playfulness, the time and perseverance she will need over the long haul to become a skillful writer.” (17)
b. “The mentor will not penalize the student whose risks do not immediately produce a superbly written essay or report.” (17).

5. A mentor is passionate.
a. “Passion remains the most important quality the mentor has to offer.” (17)
b. “Through the relationship with a novice, the mentor gets to experience the thrill of the craft (as well as its pain) all over again. In this way the mentor’s passion never gets spent: it gets renewed again and again through the mentoring relationship.” (18)

6. A mentor looks at the big picture.
a. “All writers have off-days, get bored, get silly, get blocked, get derivative, get lazy, ‘borrow’ sentences. Take the long view.” (18)
b. “Even the most skilled young writers can absorb only a certain amount of this fire, a limited amount of direct instruction at any given time.” (18)
c. “We need to be patient: the fuse we light is a slow-burning one.” (18)
d. “More important, we need to be gentle.” (18)