What Makes a Great Mentor

Abby is 16 years old and lives in Oakland, CA. She loves music, volleyball, and spending time with her friends.
Here are the two main attributes that I have found to separate the good teachers from the bad ones:
1.    Finding the right balance between being a mentor and being a friend.
I’ve had a lot of teachers who think they’re still sixteen, and who think that by acting our age, we will like them more as teachers. While some students like this method, I’ve found that it tends to backfire on a majority of students (especially myself). Teachers like this get so caught up in cracking jokes, trying to speak to us the way we do with each other, and even trying to learn our gossip, that their effort to be “our friend” cuts into their teaching time. It also makes students like me lose respect for them due to their unprofessionalism.
However, this doesn’t mean that a teacher should focus only on blandly reciting information. Such a strategy bores students and isn’t that effective in getting them to actually memorize and learn the subject, because they feel unmotivated in the class. I’ve found that it is very important to have a connection with students while teaching them, because when students feel friendly with their teacher, class becomes more entertaining for them.
2.    Be a fair grader.
We’ve all had that teacher who would give an A for a too-short, poorly written essay, and we’ve all had that other teacher who never gave even the best student anything above a C. Obviously students tend to love the former, because being able to get high grades with little effort is a dream come true to most teens. Despite the fact that this teacher may be every student’s favorite, being an easy grader doesn’t make someone a good teacher. In fact, because the students have no motivation to really study the material or hone their skills, I believe that easy grading defines a bad teacher.
Because of this, it would seem reasonable that grading strictly would be beneficial for students, even though they may not like the teacher, because it would push them to try harder, and prepare them more for the harsh realities of college and adult life. However, this method can also be detrimental to a student’s learning experience in the class and overall progression in school. While one bad grade may push a student to try harder the next time, if they don’t see improvement, it is very possible that they will give up. To many students it may seem pointless to put a lot of effort into something that they know will get a bad grade. So, just like with an easy grader (even though it is for the opposite reason), the students will stop trying. The best method is to grade fairly, and relatively, only considering the work that the students have done, and disregarding any personal feelings towards the students.

The conclusion of this article is that teachers need to find a happy medium in most aspects of their teaching. It’s a hard medium to find, and I personally have only ever had one teacher who got it exactly right. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had other good teachers though. Just because a teacher doesn’t balance everything quite right doesn’t mean that they resort to the extremes. There is a large middle ground full of good teachers, with a small percentage of those right in the center being the great teachers.
So why did I write an article about being a good teacher for a parenting blog? First, to tell teens that being a great teacher is pretty difficult, so you shouldn’t expect too much going into your classes (and don’t assume everything that older students who had the same teacher you know have is true, because everybody learns differently). You should, however, refrain from becoming discouraged because of a bad teacher, and still study hard and try to make the best of what you have. Second, because I truly think that teaching in a school is wholly related to all other forms of mentoring, especially parenting. Of course the bond between parents and children is a very different thing, and the contexts of parenting and teaching are not alike, but there are still similarities. For example, a parent must be friendly to their child while also standing their ground on rules. In the same way that a teacher must grade fairly, a parent must be just strict enough to raise a good child, while also understanding that with too many rules, a child is prone to rebel. In general, teachers, parents, and other mentors of teens must understand that in most situations a teen will have the best response to an approach that uses the best of both worlds from the two extremes that approach could have.

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