26 August 2013 12:08 PM

Kids Need Mentors, Too

by rbavaria

I remember my mentors, those unselfish and caring teachers and senior colleagues who inspired me, introduced me to new ideas, challenged me to grow even when I didn’t think I could, stretched my confidence, and showed me the ropes.  They got me through some tough challenges and showed me my own strengths. 

When I got my own classroom well over forty years ago, I continued to rely on these mentors.  I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one in my classroom who needed mentors.  They may not have been aware of the word, but the kids needed mentors, too.  Whom could they look up to, learn from, emulate, and admire?  Each kid in my first 10th grade English class was eager to have an adult role model – even if they couldn’t or wouldn’t admit it.

I reached a lot of kids, but, hey, no teacher can reach every kid, every lesson, every day.  We need help.

An awesome athlete, an inspiring scientist, an able mathematician, a gifted writer, an accomplished musician, a talented artist.  What teen wouldn’t grow under the tutelage of some caring adult who takes an interest in developing skills, imparting knowledge, and building confidence?

It’s especially important for career-oriented subjects, like the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math.  And, sad to say, still particularly important for girls.  If you’re not strong in math yourself, for heaven’s sake don’t pass it on to your daughters .

It’s early in the new school year, so here’s a list of some useful and encouraging folks who could energize youngsters to stay on track in school and in their other interests.  It’s common sense that the more adults propping up kids and cheering them on, the better the kids will be.

1.     You.  Naturally.  You’re your kids’ first and most influential teacher.  They want to please you, want you to be proud of them.  So, be a role model to them.  Behave the way you want them to behave.  They’re watching.  Sometimes, though, their talents and interests aren’t our talents and interests.  If that’s the case, help them find other adults who can motivate.

2.     Coaches.  Sports coaches help kids develop new skills, enhance natural talents, and learn sportsmanship.  Ask any committed athlete, and he or she will tell you about a special coach.

3.     Teachers.  Teachers are as influential as coaches, especially the ones who take notice of undeveloped talent, then motivate, inspire, and personalize.  Everyone has a favorite teacher.  Remember how yours helped you?

4.     Extracurricular teachers.  The drama coach, the piano teacher, the journalism adviser, the chess or photography club sponsor, the horseback-riding instructor – these important adults in kids’ lives can stimulate further learning and awaken undeveloped talents.

5.     Tutors.  Tutors make learning personal, tailor lessons expressly for the kids in front of them.  The company I work for, Sylvan Learning , is known for caring tutors who inspire kids to succeed.

6.     Friendly neighbors.  Sometimes our kids’ mentors are right next door.  The weekend car tinkerer, the chemist with excellent math and science skills, the computer nerd who’s a hero to techies, the amateur artist whose batik creations are really cool, or the veterinarian whose way with animals is stirring.

7.     Clergy.  Men and women in our houses of worship are professional inspirers.  The ones who are particularly in tune with youngsters can quicken kids’ thinking and awaken a moral compass in ways that seem, well, miraculous.

8.     Family.  Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, brothers and sisters are all potential mentors.  Getting older relatives to talk about their accomplishments, interests, and experiences can open up new vistas for kids.  Every family has heroes.  Who are your family’s?

9.     Professionals in the community.  I’ve already mentioned the veterinarian next door.  Every community has its share of child-friendly technicians, scientists, accountants, mechanics, business owners, entrepreneurs, and storytellers who are neighborly mentors.

10.  Colleagues.  Sometimes our co-workers have talents we don’t have, and they welcome reaching out to kids for homework tips, curriculum advice, or career guidance.

Kids need all the positive adult help they can get.  Good role models are essential so it’s one of our most important duties to make sure our kids are exposed to as many of them as we can.  As for all the lousy ones out there, keep them at bay as best you can.  I believe the good ones will win out in the end.


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