Building partnerships with mentors

One of the things I am constantly telling mentors is how important they are, but that the kids don’t give a rip about them. Mentors become mentors thinking they’re going to be best friends with the kids. If they keep thinking that, they’re going to be disappointed the first time a kid doesn’t return their phone call or flakes out and doesn’t show up for a meeting.

One thing you can do to help your mentors succeed is invite past mentors to meet with the new mentors. They can answer any questions and also talk about what it’s like and how being a mentor doesn’t always fit in the fantasy that we have.

If you’re new to the program and don’t have any past mentors to call on, be sure to set up a time after the program starts for the mentors to get together and talk about how it’s going (actually, be sure to do that whether you’ve had mentors before or not). Have adult beverages on hand. The mentors need a time to talk to each other honestly, to vent, and to compare notes. This is not the time to talk about the beautiful spirit inside each and every child. This is the time for them to say, “I hate having to track down my student all the time,” and figure out ways to support them and techniques to help them succeed.

The point is that you don’t just tell them, “OK, go mentor” and expect they’ll be fine. You need to find a way to check in with your mentors during the program so they don’t get frustrated and burned out. They will need you or others with a longer view of the impact mentoring has to reassure them when they feel the relationship is going nowhere.

Again, the key thing is to emphasize that what they are doing is vitally important even if it never feels like it. Those kids they work with are picking up far more than they imagine.

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