As a homeschooler, I spent a lot of time doing extracurricular activities based on my interests. Sometimes these were group activities; sometimes one-on-one lessons. The ones I remember most clearly, and the ones where I learned the most, were the ones where the teacher became a mentor to me. These experiences have shaped my path in ways I could not have predicted.
When I was about six years old, I was fascinated by needlecraft and historical fashion. Wanting to support my interest, my mom sought out a sewing teacher—but I was six, which most teachers couldn’t see beyond. After being laughed off by several people, my mom found a sewing teacher who encouraged my passion for needlecraft and interest in historical fashion, once spending half-an-hour discussing with me the history of corsets and the effect they had on a woman’s physiology. Fifteen years later, I still use the portable ironing board she made for me.
When I was fourteen, I took a physical environment class at university. During that two-term class, I would meet with one of the professors during her office hours. We would talk about the material, and she ended up giving me extra reading when I’d finished the textbook. While the other professors encouraged me, this professor gave me the resources and opportunities to explore my interests and develop my skills and knowledge base. Even after I finished the class, I continued to visit her. She mentored me through the rest of college and grad school, and became one of my closest friends.
More recently, I did a semester-long climate and clean energy lobbying internship for the League of Women Voters of WA. Getting the internship proved to be a challenge: my area of interest did not align with a pre-existing position, yet I had to find someone who would take me on. Though my internship supervisor agreed to work with me, others in the organization weren’t as welcoming. My supervisor argued my case and got permission for me to work with her, then spent the next several months guiding me through the legislative process and political environment of the state legislature.
Being neurodivergent, I have faced opposition from many as I sought to pursue my interests. The arguments—too young, too awkward, too naive, too inexperienced—followed me to volunteer opportunities, internships, jobs, college, grad school, everywhere I went. They form the inner voice that I’ve argued with for the last decade. I could not fight these battles alone—that inner voice would have won a long time ago. Instead, I had mentors in my corner, adults who saw my passion and potential and gave me opportunities to learn and to prove myself. With them fighting for me, I have been allowed to blossom into the woman I am today.
Our society often underestimates and undervalues our young people. My mentors recognized the value I brought to the table, and helped me develop my abilities. Even over the last few years, I have had mentors who provided guidance and support as I stepped into new roles and took on additional responsibilities. As an instructor and the director of GHF Online, I have had the opportunity to mentor as well as teach many students. I also founded Exceeds Expectations Learning, which offers private tutoring and mentoring. Through 2EL, I get the opportunity every semester to see students grow and thrive in the supportive learning environment we create. I have observed that teaching and mentoring often go hand-in-hand, as the journey of learning brings people together. That intersection, I have found, is where the greatest personal growth occurs.