I knew I wanted to be a teacher before I started college at Western Washington University. Students at Western don’t have many opportunities to work with students until they enter the education program, and as soon as I heard about Compass 2 Campus, it became my main priority to not only get experience working with students but also to be able to give back to the community.
Looking back, I know the time I spent as a Compass 2 Campus mentor has helped me create meaningful relationships with my students as a professional teacher today.
During my time in the program, I worked with students facing the same behavioral and academic problems I see today. In my first year with Compass 2 Campus, there was a student who did not have many friends and was underperforming academically. After talking with him, he had told me he wasn’t planning on graduating and that he wanted to run his own auto shop. He and I had long conversations about how it was important to graduate and to learn math (his hardest subject) because he would have trouble running a business if he couldn’t handle money.
After working with this student for three years, he was earning all A’s and was more confident about his academics. He also turned to me to learn about technical programs that he could get involved in after high school.
Today, in my first year as a teacher, I work in a Title I school teaching a combined first- and second-grade class that includes students who are around the same academic level between first and second grade. In this setting, I must modify all of my lessons to fit the needs of my students as well as making sure they are all meeting the Common Core standards. Coming into my first year of teaching, I knew it was going to be challenging, not only because it was a split class but because this school is known to have a high teacher turnover rate.
One thing that I had in my back pocket was the ability to create personal relationships with kids because of working closely with a group of students for three years in Compass 2 Campus. The student population that I work with now is very similar to the students I mentored through the program.
Earlier this year, one of my students came into my class with a rap sheet of behavior problems. He has issues at home, and, at the beginning of the year, I wrote many discipline referrals for him.
One day, I just decided that I couldn’t write any more referrals and that I needed to be the one that he could count on and trust — the whole basis of the Compass 2 Campus program. I made sure this student felt like he was appreciated in class by giving him small jobs, such as turning off the lights when our class watched a video clip and tasking him with dropping classroom books off at the school library. I also emphasized the concept of choice, telling him he can choose to be on task and that I care about his choices.
Since then, he has done a complete 180. Other staff members have complimented me on my ability to get through to him when others couldn’t, and I give all the credit to Compass 2 Campus and what I had learned as a student mentor. Compass 2 Campus completely changed my life as a person and as an educator, and all the people involved have really been a support system for me. I am constantly trying to better myself and to be a better mentor to all my students.
Stevie Olsen spent four years working as a mentor with the Compass 2 Campus program at Western Washington University. She teaches first and second grade at a Title I school in the Mukilteo School District.