STARTING AT A NEW SCHOOL can often be daunting… especially if you’ve already graduated. Earlier this year we expanded the number of mentees we were able to work with, and welcomed two new mentors: Lisa and Mark* As they near the end of their first term, we check in with them….
LUL: Going back into school as an adult can be a strange experience. What was it like returning to those halls?
Mark: It was interesting – I think there’s a part of me that still doesn’t want to admit, almost Peter Pan like, that I’ve grown up. I thought I would relate more to the students than to the teachers, and then quickly realised, oh wait, the *staff* are my peers.
Lisa: Before I joined LUL, I was already working in one school, so I had become used to the environment. But every school is different: now I’m in 3, and they each have a distinct personality, and a unique feel to them: different challenges, different pupils.
“When I asked for her advice, she said: ‘Kids smell b******* really quickly. If you fake enthusiasm, they’ll know you’re not being genuine, and they won’t respond to it. Just be yourself.’”
LUL: And what about the mentoring itself: did you have any expectations going in?
L: I thought there might be more of focus on producing work, but it’s more about engaging the mentees, and building up a relationship with them. I picture it like a river: you have to adapt to the flow, and what’s happening with the young person. So maybe you’re chatting about things, you’re on course, and then you’ll come across something else, and you meander.
M: There’s definitely external factors that play into it as well. One week one of my quieter students turned up full of smiles and chat and I thought I’ve broken through, I’ve done it! Turns out the new Red Dead Redemption game had come out that weekend…
LUL: Describing what LUL does can often be tricky. How do you explain it to your mentees?
L: I described it as learning about whatever you’re interested in. Not having to follow what the school says, or what you’re supposed to do, it’s what you want to do.
M: Yes, I was the same. I also shared a bit about me, and then I often talk them through making a mind map of their interests, with various prompts: what they do after school, what movies they’re into…. we use that as a base to jump off from.
L: A lot of it is just listening to what the young person has to say: sometimes it can just be one word that I’ll pick up on and say: tell me more about that. If you have a rigid plan, you might get stressed about sticking to it: you can’t really be like that with young people, as they probably have other ideas.
“It’s not that young people don’t want to engage in things, or don’t want to do their best – it’s that there are barriers to them doing so, that we can’t necessarily see.”
LUL: So you almost work it out together?
L: Yes. This is their time, I’m not there to tell them what they have to do, I’m there to listen to what they want to do and work around that. It’s important to be authentic, and that helps the relationship to develop: once you have that, it’s easier to engage with them.
M: When I first got this job I spoke to my old English teacher, who I’m still friends with and who was a big influence on me. When I asked for her advice, she said: “Kids smell b******* really quickly. If you fake enthusiasm, they’ll know you’re not being genuine, and they won’t respond to it. Just be yourself.” I was slightly concerned that if I had a student, who, for example, said: “I really love make-up” then I might be stumped. I’ve realised I am able to say: “I know absolutely nothing about make-up, and I’ve never really looked into it, but great, let’s do it, I’m sure we’ll find interesting stuff!”. And we do.
Where I can, I also try to tie the stuff we’re doing in the sessions, to what’s happening in the world. When Stan Lee passed away recently, it actually prompted a very interesting session with one of my mentees: we watched a video that had just been posted, about how he purposefully didn’t write Spiderman to be like the usual, infallible hero and that made him so much more complex. We then talked about that, and fed it into the work we were doing. I try and keep an eye out for that kind of stuff: it helps them realise their interests aren’t just this random obscure thing, it’s stuff that’s out in the world, ongoing.
LUL: What do you feel you’ve learnt from the experience, thus far (apart from young people’s extraordinary olfactory abilities)?
L: I’ve learnt more about seeing things from a young person’s perspective. I have a mentee who initially didn’t want to engage at all with the programme and didn’t even want to meet me to speak. Now he is very responsive, and I can tell that he really enjoys it. I’ve spent some time reflecting on that and think this will inform my approach in the future: it’s not that young people don’t want to engage in things, or don’t want to do their best – it’s there are barriers to them doing so, that we can’t necessarily see.
M: Yeah. There’s been a few moments - and from an external point of view, they probably don’t look like big achievements - but there are little victories that are really good to see. One of my students was really nervous and struggled to open up: I’d tried asking open questions, and they would not be able to respond; I tried asking closed questions and I’d get a one or two word response and then they’d stop. But then the first time that they actually spoke to me, without me having to ask: they just had a thing they really wanted to tell me…. I didn’t make a big deal of it, but in my head there were party poppers going off. So there’s lots of little moments like that, where for that student, and on that day, it’s a really cool moment.
*You can read all about them on our People page. It’s worth it.