Imagine the first meeting you ever had with a student who you would be establishing a relationship with as their mentor or tutor.
Do you remember how nerve-racking and awkward it was not knowing what questions to ask and how to ask them?
I’ve worked at 3 different schools and youth centers before moving to Chicago, and strangely enough, I can remember the first student that I met at each and exactly what I talked about with them during that first impression. Nia, Dejuan, and Britney…
Nia was very vibrant and talkative. I taught a reading group over the Summer in the low-income area of my hometown for youth K-6th grade. I was the first person in college who Nia ever met and she continuously interrogated me about my classes, assignments, and professors. She used to make me laugh, making fun of the the way I dressed which she thought was "sooo weird", and would ask if all college women looked like me (they don’t, I have no style whatsoever). She would mimic all my slight mannerisms that I would do when explaining things to the other students, but what was the most memorable about Nia is that when she would read, she would pronounce every word so articulately and "adult-like". I often called on her to read passages in front of the class, and she enjoyed being in the spotlight. After that summer, Nia and her family moved to Memphis where she is now in the 5th grade.
Dejuan was my little troublemaker. I was a teacher’s assistant for his 4th grade class and had been assigned to help him and a group of fellow students with their math. Dejuan was more interested in getting attention by making jokes about the text figures and drawing funny pictures to show off to the students next to him instead of doing multiplication tables. The only time I could get him to focus was when I was working with him one on one, so I suggested that he meet me before school in the library so that I may check his homework. During that time he was seriously attentive and asked lots of questions about lessons in later chapters of the book. Dejuan was able to complete his math homework during the study period at the end of the day, so during the mornings I was able to prep him on the following lesson to give him a head start. The first thing he told me when I met him was a joke, and every morning in the library, he would meet me with other jokes he had picked up from home.
Britney was probably the most shy one. I was assigned to be her reading partner during an after-school program that I volunteered for during the evenings. Britney would pick fights with the other girls in the program and would arrive late because she was in detention. By the time I was able to sit down with her, she had already shut down and did not want to participate. It went on like that for weeks until I sent her to go stand in the hallway for not doing what she was told. I was later approached by one of the supervisors in the program who informed me that Britney’s Aunt, who was also one of her guardians, had passed away 3 weeks before the after-school program had started. Because she was so quiet, people assumed she was okay. One day I took a risk by asking her about how she felt, and she spent the remainder of the period talking about her feelings. I had never heard Britney speak so much, and I let her vent why I sat there quietly paying attention. She didn’t need me to respond with cliché statements like, “it will be okay” and “everything is fine”. Britney just wanted someone to listen to her.
Society has the tendency to view youth as counterparts of adults, and not as individuals. “Children are to be seen, not heard“, as tradition has taught. Developing on-going communication with the youth we mentor and tutor can be difficult at first, but the important thing is to listen to them, especially during those moments when they are most open. Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir, but I know from experience that the first meeting between the mentor/tutor and the youth is never easy for anyone. You got to break the ice not just once, but also during various times in the youth’s life. At the moment, I’m studying how to run a discussion group for teenage girls in the future. Despite all my experience and training, I’m constantly teaching myself how to be patient, how to ask the right questions, how to approach different issues pertaining to adolescents, and how to be quiet and attentive when I need to be.
I’m also carrying over everything I learned when approaching youth here at Cabrini as a new volunteer for College Zone, where I will helping students with getting accepting into college, receiving aid and scholarships, and finding employment. The Tutor Mentor Connections site has many resources for potential mentors, tutors, and youth program administrators through their discussion forums and links library. Also the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) publishes free webinars and guides in regards to interacting with youth which can be accessed here.