Professional Learning

The Meaning of Mentoring: We’re Never Too Old — or Young — to Learn

Mentors and mentoring programs play an important role in education.

February 23, 2001

The roots of the word mentor trace back to the Greek Odyssey. Mentor was the teacher in whose care Odysseus left his son, Telemachus, when he set out on his voyages. Mentor was actually the goddess Athena, in the guise of a mortal man. In its original meaning, a mentor is a teacher.

My first mentor was my father. All parents are teachers, every day of our lives, in the way we conduct ourselves. Later, when I became a filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola became my mentor and taught me how to write screenplays and how to work with actors. At the time, I had been more of a cameraman and editor, more interested in the technical side of filmmaking. My later mentor was Joseph Campbell, who asked cosmic questions and further exposed me to the mysteries of life.

Mentors help novices learn by doing -- applying theory in practice -- and also inspire them, keeping them motivated to persevere. I've featured such relationships between mentors and apprentices in my Star Wars films. I hope more teachers can benefit from mentoring -- especially during those crucial early years of teaching -- and in turn, mentor others.

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