Mentoring youth is no more and no less than what teachers ought to be doing on a daily basis. Teaching is not simply demonstrating how to do a task or interpreting the definition or purpose of elements on this earth, it is more so the guidance of youth. Those wonderful educators who have realized this have helped to produce happy and productive citizens. What more can a teacher ask for? It is the ultimate satisfaction.
First and foremost, take the time to assess one’s students. Depending on the age they’re in, the teacher should assess which ones are at risk students. This requires answering the following questions:
Do the parents come to ask about the child?
When a parent is involved in his child’s life, he usually enquires about his progress and cooperates with the teacher. Children who are at risk usually have parents who either chose not to be involved in their children’s lives or their work does not leave them time to do so. In either case the child may be on his/her own too many hours or simply neglected.
When the parent asks about the child, is he/she defensive of the child or aggressive towards the child?
In the first case, the parent is one of a weak personality who cannot impose rules or regulations on his child (probably a martyr style parent) and the child ends up taking control while in the second case the parent is one (probably an autocrat style parent )who oppresses the child. The latter is often times the parent who begets bullies. [Effective Parenting: What’s Your Style? By Robert C. DiGiulio] Children are often at risk in adolescence in either of these situations because they have trouble forming their true identity.
Does the child have a history of academic failure?
Children with learning difficulties are the number one candidates for at risk behavior.
Is the child older than his classmates due to having failed a class?
Having failed one or more classes makes the child (especially the adolescent) feel incompetent and inferior. These type of children usually have very low self esteem and have a great need to fit in, which may lead them to the wrong paths in life such as dropping out of school, alcohol dependency or drug abuse coupled with other criminal behavior. This does not occur overnight. It is a process that starts with smoking or drinking and may very well end up in the last phases of drug abuse and other criminal activities.
Is he/she usually the trouble maker, the loud mouth, the clown or the one seeking your attention?
These are children who carry a heavy burden of a troubled home environment on their backs or have a type of learning difficulty and want to avert attention from that problem which they are ashamed of.
Does the student lack concern for school as an institution necessary for his future or life in general?
A very serious fault with educators and the system of education is that it has placed too much concern on numbers and results rather than the act of learning. And learning presupposes an inquisitive spirit which thirsts for knowledge. True education comes from a combination of interests which the child will be guided to fulfill. If the child cannot connect to the school environment, he will inevitably seek knowledge he may falsely feel necessary elsewhere inappropriate.
Finally, each teacher should ask, ‘How am I behaving towards these children?
Am I giving them a chance to prove to themselves how wonderful they are? Have I done everything in my power to exhaust all my resources and methods to interest this child in making something of himself and his life?’ It is human flaw to see others’ lacking in areas, but one’s own flaws go on undetected. Thus, it is necessary to look at oneself square in the face and honestly see whether something has been lacking in the teacher-student relationship.
Once these questions have been answered, the teacher should take special care to approach those children who need the extra care. It can be done addressing the situation with the guidance of the school counselor or if he/she is inundated by work, help may come from a mentor organization.
What teachers always do best is observe, listen, show and praise. Many youngsters do not receive those basics from the home.
Parents are so often buried under so many responsibilities and concerns that not only do they not know how to listen or observe but they are ignorant as to their importance. Beginning tomorrow then, observe and listen to those young souls – they are after all the future of your country. When a problem or troublesome behavior is picked up do not be quick to judge and pass punishment.
Instead surprise the child by keeping him in for a very short chat during the break. For instance: “John, I noticed today that you were very uneasy. Taking your classmate’s pen without asking is not the thing to do, right? Would you like to tell me what the matter is?”
It is highly likely that the child will not tell you the reason for his behavior but you can continue by saying: “OK, I think I understand but you cannot do this again. If you do, I’ll have to sit you alone and I don’t like to think of you alone in class.” Then you can tell him about something positive that you noticed in his school performance that you want to praise. For example, “I also wanted to congratulate you; on your spelling quiz you did much better than last time. I’m proud of you. Keep up the good work.”
By ending on a positive note which makes him feel good about an accomplishment, he will heed what you have said previously more easily. The next day or a few days later have a meeting planned with him again where you will have more time to help him improve in an area he is weak in. Send a letter home praising his progress, even is that he simply got two more problems right today in relation to last week. The idea is to point out all that the child accomplishes. One small accomplishment at a time, the child will probably come to believe that he can do well, that he is capable and can progress just like everyone else.
Once a closer relationship has been established, one is able to advise and be heard. One’s word will be cherished and regarded seriously. As Mr. DiGiulio mentions in his book (Effective Parenting) every child wants the chance to be good. A teacher is by nature a mentor, behaving like one takes only a little time to observe, assess and implement one’s concern. When teachers behave as youth mentors they help yield a society that does not rest on its laurels for as Matthew Arnold said:
“Not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming is the character of perfection….” –Matthew Arnold (was a British Inspector of Schools)