I am lucky enough to work with a school that runs a mentoring programme for the students, and I know what a difference it makes.
I think I understand how hard it is for teachers to truly individualise the learning experience, when they have a class of over 30 students, who have different abilities, learn in different ways and want different things. There will always be some students that struggle with at least some subjects, some who prefer to challenge the system than benefit from it, and some with low self-esteem and crushed aspirations. Sometimes you have to look outside ‘teaching’ to find other learning solutions.
I had the pleasure of mentoring a young woman, who was hurtling towards the end of her school career, predicted not to get the target of 5 GCSEs and not to pass English, or Maths, which would make her future career choices really tough. One of the key tenets of mentoring is confidentiality, but let’s call her Tess. Imagine a girl that’s bright, popular, finds teachers boring, and has been on a downward trajectory of poor results, feeding ever lower expectations, and a bigger “don’t care” attitude. In fact you may know someone like Tess, or even have been a Tess!
The school saw the potential in Tess and asked her (and her parents’ permission) to join the mentoring programme. The outcome was:
Tess passed 9 GCSEs, including English and Maths!
It works like this….
A mentor is not an authority figure; they don’t tell, they ask; their ideas and suggestions don’t come with emotional baggage or professional pride – you can’t let them down. There are no bad marks or penalties: the mentee’s actions are their own choices, they set their own objectives, and judge their own achievements.
As a mentor, I always focus on the positives: What are you best at/enjoy most? How can you do more of those? What steps forward and/or little successes have you made this week? What could you try next? And so on. Tess and I never discussed missed deadlines, things she didn’t or couldn’t do, problems in class or at home.
A mentor is not a counsellor, a teacher, or a friend. Mentors are people with life and work experience, who are giving their time freely, and this implies that there is purpose and value in the process and the person. The school must also value and believe in the student to have included them in the programme. Therefore – “I must be worth something”.
And of course they are, and an hour every week or so, is not a big price for such an important investment. In return you get the pride and reward of making a difference at a turning point in a young person’s life and, like me, you might find that you learn a lot too.
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” – John Bunyan