Mentor was the name of Odysseus trusted friend, the man that “kept him awake” and cultivated his entrepreneurial and creative mind. The man that was one of the first people that recognized him, despite him almost hiding his face, when he had returned to his kingdom in Ithaca after the Troyan war. Mentor was able to recognize his mentee and helped him to find his way back to the palace and claim his position and wife.
Mentoring in Education is in my view a crucial process that helps not only the mentor but also the mentee. Being myself in both roles several times as well as being able to “coordinate” such relationships, when successful a mentorship relationship can be transforming. Success mainly depends on the “chemistry” and the trust between the two, which translates into one thing: having a genuine interest in the story, the present and the future development and aspirations of the other, mainly the mentee’s. However, as it is with every story about a journey, spiritual or physical one, we initially travel in order to discover something or someone else, but then we realise that we actually find out more things about ourselves. As a result, the mentoring relationship can be as inspiring for the mentor!
Mentoring in Education can take different forms or shapes and I believe that it should start from an early early age, as it can answer diverse needs and support the child, teen and adolescent in different stages of his/her life. The role of the teacher as mentor is one of the most important ones, as the teacher –along with parents – is the person that has the responsibility and possibility to empower, inspire, teach and connect the student with the past, present and future.
Reading “Finnish Lessons” by Pasi Sahlberg it is mentioned that this is one of the roles that primary school teachers assume. They mentor the students not only towards their academic steps and choices, but also towards developing themselves, through reflection and discussion. Mentoring in older ages becomes even more important and crucial, when the dilemmas and choices in life become more complex.
Now, how can that be achieved in a class of 30? In 9 years of primary and high school years? Bit by bit, step by step, with personal authentic relationship and with the support and cooperation of the rest of teachers and very important, the parents. Now, this may seem like a non-realistic scenario, but I have seen teachers that have managed to do that, because they cannot see their role in the classroom in any other way. Usually these are the teachers that love being and talking with their pupils and their parents, taking risks, read and are proactive about their development. They are usually the ones that measure their success in ways much more challenging and deep than their students performance in standardized tests. I realize that this is not an easy thing to do in the daily routine. And we all have good and bad days, moments that we may want to close ourselves in our shell and just think of simple things like tomorrow’s shopping list, lunch and our summer holidays, teachers are humans, too.
Despite it being very important, building a mentoring relationship amongst teacher-students does not need too many formalities, resources and guidebooks. It needs time, interest, maturity and trust. If you do not have these or are not willing to invest, then you may as well leave it to someone else. There are no shortcuts in this case.