The Un-Schooling of Mentor Jordan Bulger

Jordan Bulger responds immediately when asked how becoming a mentor at Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa has changed his view of teaching. “The term ‘mentor’ needs some rebranding,” he says. “I am mentoring as much as I am learning.”

As a first-year mentor, Jordan sees little distinction between his role and that of his students. A lifelong learner with numerous graduate degrees in such diverse subjects as classics, international affairs, and teaching, he celebrates the mentor-student collaboration. “The best mentors are students,” he emphasizes. “I am in a position to be learning, not only in the curriculum, but learning about them, their interests, their superpowers. What does it mean to be a teen? I feel constantly on my toes to match their amazingness.”

As with many new mentors, Jordan’s transition to Quest Forward Learning involves what he terms “un-schooling.” His biggest challenge has been how to show his students that education can be delivered in a way that is joyful, engaging, and worth their while. “Dealing with first-year students who have been in the system, [their] education has calcified in a way that they hate,” he says. “If things aren’t working, what are some ways that we can get you to the point where you love coming to school? I am excited to be part of that process.”

Teaching Foundation Year English and Exploration Phase Social Science, Jordan mentors anywhere from 6-9 students at a time. As someone who previously taught at a large university and who then gravitated toward younger students in California private and public schools, he realized his passion was to “teach the whole child.” In the context of working with current students on quests, he remains attracted to the smaller learning environment of Quest Forward Academy Santa Rosa, where students “pursue their own interests” so that he can be a “co-conspirator, a learner as well as a guide.”

Jordan has relished how, as a mentor, he can act as a sounding board, a cheerleader, and a fellow academic adventurer. “Getting through a quest changes [your] teaching style,” he explains. “I can go step by step, incrementally, with them, and offer timely feedback. The format allows for individual choice and expression. I get to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and see that, how they blossom in real time.”

Following his own varied educational choices, Jordan is quick to enthuse about his chosen path. “I’ve just loved school, every minute of my life,” he says. “I’ve been tempted to do other things, but I’ve been called to be a teacher, to be an opportunity maximizer, giving other people opportunities they don’t realize they have. There wasn’t a single day where I wasn’t in love with learning, had that sense of wonder.”

Jordan watches the process of learning every day with the awe of a fellow student. “A lot of the powerful moments have been in and around creative writing, watching students take the skills that they’re learning and using them more formally: playing with form, simile, metaphor, diction. That has really been incredible, how they can express themselves.”

Jordan’s biggest challenge as he incorporates the Quest Forward Learning rubric into his classes? The correlation between mentoring students in academic subjects and applying those subjects to eventual careers. “I highly discourage vocational thinking,” he says. “Not everything has to have an exchange value. The metric shouldn’t be whether we’re ever going to use this [in the real world]. It’s a constant mental battle that I fight. Take poetry, for example: Just let beauty win the day.”

That said, Jordan admits, “Part of being educated in a classroom is being prepared for life outside of it. Bringing in service opportunities, personal/family problems, thinking about students’ lives, jobs. It’s very porous.”

As an example of the real-world applicability to what he is teaching, Jordan cites his recent class discussion of the Greek tragedy Antigone. “I introduced civil disobedience, moving from the play to civil rights, past and present, to their own lives. Take school rules: We have a no-phone policy. So the students wondered what civil disobedience looks like in terms of their cell phones—not just breaking the rules, but breaking them with a purpose.”

With an abundance of excitement and as a lifelong student whose teaching career continues to further his own education, Jordan has found a happy home at Quest Forward Academy. He enthuses, “I am vested in helping people become powerful citizens, and to find that giddiness about school. I’ve been privileged to be overeducated, and want to share that with everyone.”

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