A mentor whose influence is lasting
“I teach because I want to inspire and empower my students,” says Byron Jones, a high school counselor and counseling representative in San Antonio, TX. Byron, 36, who was a welfare recipient before qualifying for financial aid and going to college, has inspired more than one other teacher from his office. “The students are a constant source of encouragement. They help me enjoy the work because of my shared passion and love for education.”
Byron is an inspiration. One of his philosophy students, Maria, tells me “My counselor helped me find a great school (Riverview Memorial High School) and continue my education in the process. In the middle of high school, I took a gamble on myself. I am not a ‘perfectionist,’ but I do not always make the right decisions, and I needed the guidance. Thank you, counselor.” In response, Byron asked students “What I’m most proud of during this school year? This week, I asked my students if any of them would like to have a positive impact on a teacher that you are inspired by. Everyone was full of nominations. I want to thank everyone who nominated me in their own way.”
Byron and his family’s strong belief in education and their commitment to foster his potential as a person and then inspire others to apply their passion for the same are contagious. It’s rare to hear a counselor who creates relationships with students, who helps them find a school, who continues to encourage students (who might be struggling academically or mentally) even after graduation and who sits with them as they are working through a challenging experience.
In a city like San Antonio where education is so central, there is no shortage of talented teachers. What is remarkable is the ability to have a positive impact in high schools from Santa Fe to Round Rock, Corpus Christi to San Antonio – and even in rural East Texas.
What is most striking about the ongoing appeal of these inspiring counselors is the power of storytelling. In this way, they spark the curiosity of students and, in turn, spark the aspiration of teachers and students alike. By using stories of their personal experience, by alluding to an outcome, by singling out a job that they held that inspired them, by sharing their own personal vision, by paying homage to a passion that they have, I have watched these teachers lead change in their communities.
The “It’s My Turn” principle, which I first introduced in more than 30 workshops across the country with the American College Counseling Association, is a guiding principle for me. It is not only about mentoring, it is also about guiding “For The Most” by achieving an end result that instills joy, trepidation and trust in others. To accomplish this, it is important to start out somewhere small and simple, like a simple conversation. Mentors who engage with their students don’t necessarily have to have a particular job with students. The potential benefits and impacts of a one-on-one conversation are greatly impacted by the topic at hand. It is important to show that you care enough to ask the questions that help them uncover and expand their ideas and to help them to engage in activities and projects that fuel their imagination and broaden their vision. I will often ask my students what they love about school. And it is not the teacher sitting across from them, making them deal with difficult concepts. Rather, it is when that one-on-one relationship provides the opportunity for the student to hear, feel and really experience that they love school. In this way, a counselor becomes a catalyst for students to feel a powerful bond with an educator and to begin to believe in themselves as they begin to see a pathway forward, one that includes college and/or careers.