Teachers as Mentors

img1 Jacob Peenikaparambil
11 Jan 2021

One of the significant insights from the lockdown due to Covid 19 and the consequent online teaching in schools is that teachers are not indispensable as instructors. Excellent videos made by experts, based on the syllabus, can be made available to the students. A few expert teachers can provide online classes to thousands of students. Technology has made possible learning without instructors. But technology cannot replace the role of teachers as mentors, especially in the schools and their role as mentors is crucial. 

The most important role of a teacher is mentoring his/her students. As education began to be commercialized and teaching became a profession, the role of a teacher as a mentor also began to disappear. One of the lessons, which the Coronavirus has taught us, could be recapturing the role of teachers as mentors. In the gurukul, the ancient system of education in India, the guru or teacher was basically a mentor. The students resided with the guru. The main focus of Gurukuls was on imparting learning to the students in a natural surrounding where the shishyas lived with each other with brotherhood, humanity, love, and discipline.  The students received holistic education, focusing equally on building character and competence. In this process, the guru was a role model of practicing the core values the students imbibed during their period of education. 

The evolution of the concept of MENTOR can be traced to the Greek epic poem Odyssey by the great poet Homer. When Odysseus, the main character of the epic, went for Trojan war, he entrusted the care and guidance of his son Telemachus to his friend, Mentor. Odysseus accepted his friend as a wise and trusted teacher or counselor to his son. Thus came to be used the word MENTOR. Mentor is the one who guides by giving counsel and accompaniment and the mentee is the one who receives guidance. 

What could be the tasks of a mentor? First and foremost, teachers as mentors should understand each student as he/she is, and accept his/her uniqueness.  There is a saying, “In order to teach Thomas English one should know not only English but also Thomas”. Hence a teacher has to understand the uniqueness of each student and try to identify the unique talents and capacities in him or her. The teachers should be aware of the fact that each human being is sent into the world with a unique task. 

There is a very interesting dialogue in the Hindi Movie Iqbal between Iqbal’s father and the coach Mohid. When Iqbal’s father refuses to send Iqbal for coaching in cricket game, Mohid challenges Iqbal’s father saying, “Ham sab is dunia me kuch khas kam karne ke liye bheje gaye hai. Iqbal Kriket khelne keliye paida hua hai” (All of us are sent to this world to perform a certain unique task. Iqbal is born to play cricket.)  Hence the teachers should have dreams for their students based on their uniqueness. 

The role of a teacher is that of a facilitator. The root of the word education is the Latin word ‘educare’, which means ‘to draw out’. The responsibility of a teacher is to draw out or develop the capacities and talents dormant in each student by creating a congenial atmosphere and providing the needed support. The classes taken by teachers are only a support for bringing out the latent capacities of the students. Therefore, in order to become a mentor a teacher has to accompany his/her students in all situations guiding, supporting and encouraging.

An important task of a teacher for becoming an effective mentor is to provide emotional support and encouragement to the students. Nowadays children face different kinds of stress due to various reasons. Family problems often disturb them. Because of the cutthroat competition to be the first and the high expectation of the parents with regard to scoring high marks in the class tests and examinations, children often become tense. 

Hence teachers should be able to read the body language of the students and support them to relieve their stress. For example, a child may not be giving attention while a teacher is taking class. Even after reminding the child once or twice the teacher should not reprimand the student in front of all other students, if the student doesn’t pay attention to the class.  On the contrary, the teacher should speak to the child in private after the class and try to understand the reason for the lack of concentration in the child. During the personal talk with the child the teacher may come to know that the child had a quarrel with his father before coming to the school. In that case the teacher can give an assurance to the child that he/she would speak to the father and settle the issue. In such a situation, the child would feel relieved of the tension and fear. This is a simple example for providing emotional support. 

Every achievement of students, however small they may be, should be acknowledged and appreciated. It is an accepted simple psychological principle that appreciation and encouragement should be given in public and corrections in private. Never a student should be given correction or reprimand in front of others. A teacher will be inflicting great damage on students by giving personal corrections in front of others. 

To be an effective mentor a teacher should be a very good listener. When a student approaches his/her teacher for guidance in times of distress, he/she should not propose any solution immediately. The task of a teacher is to listen carefully and pay full attention. As far as possible the solution to a problem is to be brought out from the student by asking facilitating questions. 

Creating trust or confidence in students is very important to be a good mentor. A student should have faith in the teacher that she/he will not reveal to anyone what he shares with the teacher. Hence keeping confidentiality is an important requirement for a mentor. Students also should have faith in a teacher that she/he is capable of guiding him properly. 

To be a successful mentor a teacher should have required knowledge and skills. As knowledge is multiplying every three years, a teacher has to be a continuous learner, if she/he has to be effective in teaching her/his subject. Besides updating subject knowledge, a teacher should know what is happening in her surroundings, in the nation and the world. For this she/he has to read newspapers, news magazines and books.  During the seminars for teachers I used to ask them how many of them read newspapers everyday without fail. Invariably the number is less than 10%. Without knowing the developments in the country and the world the teachers will not be able to guide their students. In the same way without reading inspiring books they will not be able to counsel their students creatively. 

To be effective mentors teachers need to have certain skills. Prominent among them are communication skill, problem solving skill and conflict resolution skill. A teacher should have as many skills as needed to be a successful mentor. During the lockdown due to Covid 19 when the schools remained closed, teachers were forced to learn how to take online classes.  

Teachers may have a natural tendency to pay more attention to smart students. In fact, to be a mentor for all students, teachers will have to pay special attention and give more time to slow learners. The talents of quick learners in a class could be utilized for the capacity building of slow learners so that competition will be replaced with cooperation among the students. 

Sometimes besides giving extra time for slow learners, teachers may have to extend material or financial support to some economically weaker students. A teacher may not be able to give financial support, but can definitely help the students in searching for financial support. There are also a few teachers who provide financial help to some students who are in dire need. 

Teachers have to become role models, if they have to become genuine mentors. They may have to give up certain bad habits like not keeping time, telling lies and gossiping etc. If some male teachers have the habit of smoking or consuming alcohol, they will not be able to inspire their students unless and until they give up such bad habits. Teachers should never compromise with the core values of honesty, integrity and respecting the dignity of all human beings. They have to practice the values they want to inculcate in their students. In other words they have to become the change which they want to see in their students.  

Some of the essential qualities needed for teachers to become excellent mentors are sensitivity, compassion, perseverance and patience. Change may happen in many students slowly, and in some cases it may take a long time. Teachers who are good mentors will not get disappointed and give up easily in such cases. They will be patient and continue their mentoring mission with hope and positive thinking. Creativity that motivates one to search for alternatives is another important quality needed to become a successful mentor. Availability according to the need of students is another quality that can make a teacher a very good mentor. 

Finally, teachers should have a holistic understanding of education, if they have to become efficient mentors. In this context, it is pertinent to recall the definition of education given by Swami Vivekananda. “We want an education which builds character, increases strength of mind, expands intellect and equips a person to stand on his own feet”. 

Realizing the importance of teachers becoming mentors, Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) Indore has been conducting training for teachers, focusing on mentoring for the last one decade. As the schools remained closed during the last ten months, USM took the help of technology to reach out to teachers through webinars. From October 2020 to January first week USM could organize webinars for 850 teachers of 17 schools in seven states. The webinars were found to be very effective, as many teachers adopted resolutions at the end of the webinars to become effective mentors. Some sample resolutions are as follows. 

•    To provide emotional support to each student and guide the students, taking into account their unique needs. 
•    To motivate students to practice forgiveness. 
•    To give special attention to slow learners. 
•    To evaluate myself every day which will help me to become more determined towards my goal? 
•    To read newspapers everyday and update myself on a continuous basis. 
•    To make use of the personal resources like time, money and materials to support the students whenever needed. 
•    To try to see my own child in every student.
•    To help the students to identify their unique talents and capacities and help them to dream big.
•    To visit the student’s homes at least once a year to build healthy relations with the families. 
•    To reduce the use of mobile phone and social media before asking the students to do the same. 
•    To learn the names of all students and call them by their names. 
•    To read at least a book a month and encourage my students to read books. 
•    To respect all religions and motivate my students to do the same and promote unity in diversity. 

The teachers who participated in the webinars acknowledged in their written evaluation that the webinar was different from many other seminars/webinars they had attended. They wrote that as a result of the webinar they were motivated to become mentors to their students. Motivating teachers to become mentors will definitely enhance the quality of education in view of building a better India and a better world.

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