How best does a teen learn has been a question plaguing the minds of numerous educators since school has become mandatory. Various programs have come and gone, but one that has always remained, even in an “official” form is that of a mentor program.
Mentoring programs take many shapes and sizes; it may mean the mentoring of others by the teen, or it may translate into the mentoring of the teen by some outside adult model. What it always, means however, is a form of guidance. When taken in the first form, there is an incredible maturing that takes place when student becomes teacher. Besides the obvious benefits gained from knowing the material to developing personal rapport with others, there are certain, almost hidden managerial skills that a student develops.
As a teacher myself, I understand that a lesson can suddenly emerge from a discussion or from what we call “teachable moments”. As lovely as these are, they are the rare diamonds of the classroom and the majority of lessons need to be organized. All aspects of good lesson planning from anticipatory set (also known as “hook”) to assessment needs to be considered. When the student takes on the role of mentor, all of these items are thought out, even though the teaching terms may not be attached to the lesson.
A fantastic program, which every school and institute should adopt if they are thinking about developing a teenage mentoring program comes from Janesville Parker High School in Wisconsin. The award winning Victory in Classes (VIC for short) was developed by my teaching colleague and has blossomed into the best example of kids mentoring kids. Teens take on the role very seriously and understand that the acceptance into VIC is a privilege, one that could be taken away if they are unorganized or do not follow through.
When teens remain the student and take on a mentor from the adult community, the education level also increases because, as is often the case, the mentor is a professional in his or her field and there is a certain authenticity to working side by side. Teens are able to ask questions that do not require textbook answers and often gain insight that teachers, who may only have a passing knowledge of a subject, cannot pass along.
The management skills fall ultimately in the professional relationship category. Teens learn quickly what it takes to manage time, money, as well as where to go when trouble arises. These simple lessons may be the difference between success or failure in the job market and a mature understanding of the world filled with responsible action versus a rather sophomoric surface level understanding.