By Ashlea Massie
Mentoring is an intimidating word. Many people think mentoring means devoting hours of time every week to one person, as a mother would do for a child. Others believe that mentoring has to be done in a specific place with a specific organization; otherwise it’s not “real” mentoring or can’t count as volunteering. This way of thinking needs to be challenged. In fact, it’s likely that you are already mentoring someone without knowing it.
That’s the realization I came to when my coworkers said to me, “He has a connection with you that no one else here has. He listens to you, not us. He will do his work if you tell him to.”
I tutored high school students, and there was one teenage boy in particular who tended to avoid homework, not caring about his grades. I taught him during summer school. He would come to talk to me on my break period. I enjoyed the teenagers I taught and took time to get to know them, asking questions about their life and their hobbies.
Eventually, he told me about some personal issues and I did my best to help him through them when I could. I had been tutoring him for half a year. Sometimes he would come to talk to me, and other times he’d do his own thing. We hadn’t communicated like we did in the summer, so I was baffled by their remark. How did I have this connection that the others didn’t? Some of them saw him most of the week, picking him up from school and dropping him off at home. They seemed to know more basic details about his life than I did.
As I continued to ponder this thought, a coworker said to me, “You know that’s why he would come in late on Thursday afternoons for tutoring, right?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“He had ROTC in the afternoons, but he would still walk to the tutoring center just to see you, because you only come in two days a week.”
That’s when I remembered something my tutee had said to me a long time ago. I had asked him about his teachers in school and which ones he liked. He told me that he liked one of the teacher’s assistants at school, and when questioned why, he said, “Because she pays attention to me. The other teachers ignore me.” That’s when I came to the realization that all this time I had bonded with my tutee solely because I paid attention to him when no one else would. It was as simple as that.
Little did I know that my bond with this young man involved more than getting along well with a tutee—it was a pupil-teacher mentorship. I had mentored someone without realizing it. In that time, I learned some simple things about informal mentoring.
The first step to effective mentoring is showing that you care. If your mentee feels like you’re being forced to talk to them, they will not reciprocate in a mentoring relationship. Showing you care means that you take time to talk with them and ask them about what’s going on in their life.
An Honest Desire to Communicate
I’m not a good communicator when it comes to teens. I think I come across as awkward. I enjoy talking to my tutees and getting to know them, but I feel out of place when I try to talk to them, as if I were so past their stage in life, I don’t know how to relate to them, much like adults who try to come down to the level of children and talk to them in simple sentences and high-pitched voices. I feel that my awkwardness in communicating is evident to them, but in spite of that, my tutees kept coming back to talk to me.
I never asked very personal questions. I kept it basic. I’d start off by asking them about their family, their favorite subjects in school, or their hobbies. From there, the more I got to know them, the more they would open up about their life.
Often I asked, “Did anything interesting happen at school this week?” From that I would learn a lot about the day-to-day events that most teens keep to themselves. Those simple questions ended up leading my tutee to see me as trustworthy enough to confide in me when he was experiencing personal problems. And at that point, I wasn’t nervous about what to do or if my advice was good because I already had the tools I needed to respond to his situation. When you open up and allow a mentee into your life, things begin to fall into place.
Our insecurities can make us feel like we’re not capable of mentoring, but the fact is, all of us mentor others in one way or another, whether we realize it or not. I didn’t realize that my connection with a tutee was a mentorship, until someone pointed out the difference in his character when I was around.
And it’s not just those who work with charitable organizations or places where people are in need of assistance who can be mentors. Anyone who is surrounded by people on a daily or weekly basis can be a mentor. You have the opportunity to minister to anyone around you just by striking up a basic conversation. Your interest in their life will be evident to them the more you talk to them on a regular basis. That’s often when the lines of communication open up.
Getting to know your mentee is the first step to having a mentorship. Mentoring them informally through biblical advice and counsel will follow once your mentee trusts you. Whether you provide solutions to problems or just lend an ear, those techniques are all part of informal mentoring. You may be giving someone a second chance at life, the hope they so desperately need, the companionship they want, or even a love they have yet to experience. People are hurting inside, in need of godly wisdom and guidance. It’s important not to miss those opportunities. You can make an impact by taking the time to get to know those around you and showing them that you care.
Ashlea Massie is a freelance writer in Friendswood, Texas.