As important as it is for students to be introduced to mentor authors, I think it is even more important that they see us, their teachers, as writing mentors. In his book What a Writer Needs (2013), Ralph Fletcher begins with the importance of writing mentors. He says mentors to young writers have certain things in common.
- Has high standards
- Encourages students to take risks
- Builds on strengths
- Looks at the big picture
- Values originality and diversity
- Is passionate
From among these, Fletcher says passion remains the most important quality the mentor has to offer. I would like to add one more item to Fletcher’s list: a writing mentor models his or her own writing. As important as it is for our students to find professional writers to serve as their mentors, I believe the writing we do in front of our students and in our day-to-day lives can be just as, if not more, powerful.
I used to wonder if it was okay when my students tried to borrow my ideas or even copy my writing. Now I know that it is more than okay—this is a desired result!
As Katie Wood Ray says in Wondrous Words (1999), “Like any other craftspeople, professional writers know that to learn their craft, they must stand on the shoulders of writers who have gone before them.” So when our students try to emulate professional writers and their teachers, we should celebrate and affirm for them that they are doing what good writers do.
If you want to become a more accomplished writing teacher, to become a true writing mentor for your students, I highly recommend Katie Wood Ray’s What You Know by Heart.