Have you ever had a mentor? What was the greatest lesson you learned from him or her?
Yes, when I first started working in San Antonio, Texas at a test publishing firm, I had a wonderful mentor. Tish was my supervisor, but she was first of all my mentor. She showed me how to handle the particularly difficult personalities of the customers we had to deal with in our state clients.
We constructed tests for states. We wrote and tried out the test questions on students throughout the state embedded in the actual tests so the students didn’t know which were the “live” test questions and which were the “try out” test questions, therefore getting good statistics for the try out questions. We met with committees of teachers and staff from the state to review the try-out questions and decide which were the best ones to include on the next live tests. Sometimes the most prickly of the players on these committees were the state staff. It was often hard to tell whose side they were on, they could be so critical of our work and make such cutting remarks. Tish, my supervisor, taught me to have a thick skin and to always smile and to take their criticism and write down their comments, to be negotiated later, never in the meeting with the teachers. The staff was very reluctant to go against the consensus of the teachers and if the teachers didn’t want an question to be included in the bank of live questions, it would not be included, no matter how good a question it was.
We could work with the state staff later about other items where there had not been a clear-cut consensus of the committee about a question. Tish also taught me how to handle the director of the division of testing who was quite a volatile, prickly individual in the many administrative meetings we had with him and his staff. She taught me to speak when I was spoken to, to never joke with him, to always try to mollify him, to help him see the good side to a problem, and to have an infinite amount of patience with him. These lessons also helped when I took over other state contracts on my own and worked with other state testing directors. The same principals seemed to apply to them, as well. My mentor had taught me well.
I will always be grateful to Tish for all she taught me by example in the test publishing company and in the next test publishing company I followed her to in Austin. I learned so much from her that made my life at work much easier. And she was an excellent supervisor who protected her people from things, too. Thank you, Tish, for all you did for me.