mentor

We are their teachers.

All of us. We have never been more needed because their journey growing up has never been harder. Yes, it is much harder then when you and I (and even their older siblings) were growing up. Why? The barrage of standardized tests in their daily reality have never been more prolific. In “Testing More, Teaching Less: What America’s Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time“, the American Federation of Teachers reported the following in 2013:

“…our study found that the time students spend taking tests ranged from 20 to 50 hours per year in heavily tested grades. In addition, students can spend 60 to more than 110 hours per year in test prep in high-stakes testing grades.”

Now that the new (and widely resisted) PARCC exam has landed in our nation’s schools this year, those now two-year-old statistics are sadly, and not all ironically, already outdated. Remember, the school year is nationally mandated to be 180 days long, averaging 6.7 hours per day. In one of the two schools followed for the AFT report, the instructional time lost to testing amounts to an entire additional class period. One full period!

I already have the class that can and should be taught during that missing and extremely valuable instructional time, but until I can make that happen for more schools and districts, I want to suggest some critical lessons you can teach kids right now. Yes, you, and yes, now. Here is why:

  • Our kids are more isolated than ever in our outdated 19th Century educational model that separates them into homogeneous groups by age and ability (and class and race when you factor in zip code);
  • The expectations we have placed on them to perform in particular, concise and irrational ways have never been more extreme;
  • The majority of the curriculum they must study and memorize is increasingly outdated and disconnected from today’s world and worse, teachers have had tailor instruction to standardized testing in order to meet impossible and unfair demands that they show their own teaching aptitude vis-a-vis student grades on these tests, further paralyzing their ability to meet student needs.

But you and I can and must begin to meet our students’s needs. Mentoring is and has to be a large part of a child’s educational career, just as it is a part of your life and mine, now. Children cannot grow up to be well balanced and aware of the larger world if they are not surrounded by and learning from a diverse group of adults beyond just parents and teachers.

Now that you have a crash-course level of understanding about why your engagement in a young person’s life is so important right now, here is a short list of what you can help convey to them. We need to do what we can to change the climate in education while also guiding the students currently caught in the eye of the story. Join me in advocating for the right kind of change in our school systems to save our students and teachers (please follow that link – it’s a must watch).

Let’s start here:
Ten things kids desperately need to hear from you right now:

  1. It’s okay, normal and even helpful to make mistakes – that’s how everyone actually learns. Let me tell you about this huge mistake I made once and how it changed something really important for me.
  2. Friendships and interpersonal relationships can be tricky, they teach us a lot about ourselves and other people, and they don’t all last forever and that’s okay.
  3. Dating and love can be complicated, just like some friendships – but it can be totally fun and worth it if it is healthy. If you want to hear any of my stories, just ask. Your first boy/girlfriend will probably bring up a lot of questions, that’s normal, don’t be afraid to ask those questions.
  4. School is teaching you perseverance. Do you know what that means? Here is how that will help you in the real world [Share your stories!]
  5. Don’t be afraid to disagree if you see things differently from other people. Your perspective of the world is unlike anyone else’s and you have it for a reason: to share it with the world.
  6. The world needs you to think creatively and have wild ideas. Tell me one you have?
  7. Always trust your gut – your instincts are yours because they are designed to help you in particular and your experience of things, believe it or not, is usually different from everyone else’s. [This is a great place to use the seeing different colors philosophy as a metaphor in your conversation: “How do I know that you see orange as the same color I do? It could look purple to you and you just call it orange.”]
  8. It’s healthy and necessary to take a break from everything – school, homework, chores, technology, friends… “What would you like to do? I’ll take time off to do it too.”
  9. The world needs to hear your thoughts, ideas and opinions. This is what adults do all the time. How did you use your voice today to speak up for something that matters to you? If you were afraid to, let’s talk about that.
  10. You are important to me and I’m really glad you are in my life; Here is what you taught me today/this week/when we had that conversation last month.