6 Months In – My Experience as a Mentor

July marked the halfway point in the relationship between me and my two mentees.

I didn’t plan to be a mentor, but when my colleague told me about two students from a local school who would be good matches for me, I couldn’t say no.

With around 6 years’ experience in teaching, as well as the work I’ve done helping young people at both my current and previous jobs, I not only thought that this would be a great chance to make a more powerful impact on someone’s life – but also that this would be a doddle.

Boy was I wrong about that last bit.

In the first session, I separately asked both my mentees – a boy and a girl in year 10 (15 years old) – what their goals were. It could be that they would like to improve on certain grades or perhaps that they would like to aim for certain careers. Neither of them had any idea of what they wanted, and there started the detective work for me – why are they here, in the mentoring programme?

The boy, a charming little chatterbox, wanted to talk video games. We spent much of the first two sessions talking about which games we preferred (and me defending my beloved Nintendo against the “cooler” companies) as well as swapping tips on which anime series were good. I set him the homework of watching One Piece, a PG-rated pirate anime my students in Japan were obsessed with.

At the end of the second session, just as we were about to end, he mumbled something about wanting to be a better person, to be a good role model for his two half-brothers.

Aha. That’s something I can work with.

Without directly acknowledging it, in sessions following that point, he would come to me with dilemmas for us to discuss. One time, he told me one of his brothers was being bullied and that he felt like he wanted to physically harm the bully. We talked about what strategies we might make in this situation and whether speaking to the bully and understanding why they are being mean would be better than dealing with the situation with our fists.

Another time he told me that he often gets into shouting matches with his older sisters and that he “punishes” them by breaking or hiding their belongings. Again, we talked about what would be a better way of dealing with a situation like this.

We’ve now got a nice little pattern of largely talking about books, films and gaming with a little “real talk” thrown in as well. Finally talking about the future and his dream career, he gave me the homework of looking into how one might become a tattoo artist (by the way, if anyone knows anything about this, please do let me know!!)

The girl was a lot more tricky. Session after session, it was a complete monologue from me, with her smiling and shrugging when I asked her questions. I not only had no idea how I should help her, but I also lacked a two-way conversation.

In the mentoring training, we learned how to encourage the mentees to assess different elements in their life through a kind of rating wheel.

Through discussing how she feels about areas of her life, I found that she’s deeply shy, lacking self confidence when meeting new people. Which explained why I was struggling to make a connection with her.

I decided to be honest and open.

“Do you know what? I am so scared of meeting new people and of them thinking I’m stupid that sometimes it takes me ages before I can approach people”.

Over the new few sessions, I taught her strategies I use to be more confident when I’m feeling anxious (which I have written about before here).

Alongside the advice I gave her I also continued to be absolutely honest, letting her know that just because I’m an adult, it doesn’t mean I have it together or that I know all the answers.

Slowly, step by step, she started opening up to me, then worked up the courage to tell me she was really nervous about her upcoming work experience placement in a local cafe. Using our confidence strategies, we prepared together for the task ahead.

When her work experience came along, I made a point to go visit her. While she was making my coffee, I asked the manager how she’s doing and heard nothing but praise – which I made sure my mentee knew about.

In our last meeting before the summer holidays, I asked her, as always, what was new. She told me with a huge grin that she’d done so well in her work experience that she’d been offered a Saturday job there.

Even just writing this now, I’m fighting back tears of pride for her.

Now, when we meet, we laugh and joke. Conversation comes easily – such a difference from when we met for the first time.

July was the halfway point through our year together, so I asked both mentees what they have found useful through meeting with me.

Both of them said that I had helped them feel more confident. The boy told me he really appreciated having someone who’s not a parent or teacher listen to what he has to say. The girl said that if it wasn’t for our confidence training, she wouldn’t have been able to get her part-time job.

What have I learnt from being a mentor?

That young people don’t come with pre-set goals that they want to achieve.

That getting them to open up to you can be really tough.

That being 15 is so much more stressful than I remembered it to be.

And, most importantly, what seems like tiny steps to me can be epic leaps to my mentees and that even the short time I get to spend with them each month can mean the world to them.

I can’t wait to see what we achieve together before our year ends.

This post was originally written for my LinkedIn profile.

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