“As one gang member told an interviewer working for the sociologist Deanna Wilkinson:
“I grew up as looking for somebody to love me in the streets. You know, my mother was always working, my father used to be doing his thing. So I was by myself. I’m here looking for some love. I ain’t got nobody to give me love, so I went to the streets to find love.”
Teachers provide that love through mentoring. However recent education policies have diminished the time teachers have to do this loving role.
I can probably say that unofficially I have been someone’s mentor since I was still in high school working as a camp counselor in local day camps.
You can’t say what a mentor is as simply as it is defined, nor can you just arbitrarily decide to be one. There are some people who will never be able to become mentors. Mentors know that with each person you play a different role. Do you give advice to someone with less experience? Sure. Do you counsel them? Sure. Do you help them learn to prepare for upcoming situations and events in their lives? Sure. However most of all you have to listen and develop a trusting relationship. Without that, whatever the extrinsic circumstances, you are not a mentor. You are a bore.
You might be in a situation where mentoring is called for and thus you naturally do it. That’s what happened with me. Kids already know who are natural mentors and choose them because of who they are.
Difficulties naturally arise with mentoring. Psychologists know that you often can’t reach people who don’t want to be reached or helped. So each time I couldn’t reach a student I thought I needed to reach more than I did, it felt like failure. But for me, the worst time I had was with a high school senior I never had in class but with whom I was working with on a senior class play came to me for help.
At first it was just about playing his role, but it developed into a more important relationship, as I got involved with his family issues and his fears both of them and graduating high school. Soon it evolved into me talking him out of suicide with the help of his girlfriend and his shrink. We thought we were doing well. The play was a hit and he was the star, but a few days prior to graduation I received a call from his girl friend saying she thought he was going to do it and that he had a gun. She begged me to call him to stop him. I did call: about a minute too late. Compared to that, what’s difficult?
The first, and most important thing I have learned from students is how to be a better mentor. It is a natural process. Obviously, I have learned much about how kids function and how they learn. They have also taught me about things I never thought I would learn about, for example…DNA slicing…but content is far inferior to process.
Finally, as far as advice goes, to be a better mentor, become a better listener. Learn how to focus on the needs of your mentees rather than procedure or your own. Be flexible, but be yourself. They came to you because of who you are. Understand that you are the mirror, not the subject in the mirror. See? It isn’t simple.
- Why don’t education policy makers understand how mentoring is one of the biggest non-data driven things teachers do to foster success?
- Why do they force schools to end programs based on mentoring?
- Why do they add so many data driven tasks that lessen the opportunities and time to do this incredibly necessary teaching role?
- Why should kids have to turn to the streets for love?