Tutor and Mentor Tips

Cybrary Man had college students email him with their tips for tutors and mentors.
I want to thank these wonderful students for their contributions.

"The only advice that I can give might be a little bit obvious. The mentors can't treat their mentees differently because of their backgrounds. It's always helpful to talk to students about things they can relate to like school work, sports, music, etc. I know this always helps me because it shows the students that people who are different can relate to them. This also provides an open communication between the mentors and mentees."

"It's sometimes hard to really relate completely to people who grew up differently then you. It's even sometimes hard to even imagine the living situations that children are living in currently."

"I used to be head of a program for Saturday Morning Program, which was for underprivileged children around Austin College, (which is located in a rather rundown, mostly African American part of town). I was raised in small town East Texas, although I am originally from England (so basically I couldn't get any whiter). I never really had any problem with the racial barrier. I grew up surrounded by large ranches, and people who owned cows and pigs and horses (although we were very middle class, and owned none of the above). Being from England, and growing up in East Texas I have a very distinct accent, which almost always got questioned, usually in the form of "why do you talk so funny?". That gave me a chance to explain about some of the funny things that have happened to me, and that I grew up different from everyone else. (you should see a kid's eyes light up when they imagine the sheriff chasing a 600lb pig down the road!). After I told them a story about me, I got them to tell me a story about something that happened to them when they were younger. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that everyone has something unique about them that makes them different from everyone else. If you tell them something funny or embarrassing about you, then they are much more likely to open up to you and tell you something about them, especially if they think you understand what it is like to be different. For me, it was the way I talk, but it could be something like eye color, or growing up on a pig farm, or having a brother that is mentally retarded, or whatever it is that made you feel different growing up (Everyone I know has one of these stories.) As for the financial differences, most college students are broke, so they can empathize, but if you don't make it a big issue, then the kids won't. Especially if you are paying attention specifically to them or trying to help them out."
"As far as specific strategies, just remember that each child is diverse and often needs support in one way or another. An article that is useful for a tutoring structure or ideas of methods of discerning where students are as you begin is cited below. My honors project is within the realm of a charter school here and I am in the process of tutoring at-risk, low-income children. One thing that I've found helpful in working with these children is just keeping an open mind. Don't assume that these children need handouts or are very different from you, don't walk in name brand clothes and expect them to notice. Many of the children I've worked with are incredible people, and never cease to amaze me with the progress they can make. Providing rewards is crucial, but these don't have to cost money. They can be reading a chapter in a favorite book after working on the vocabulary words, or shooting basketball after learning about angles in math. Try to keep students intrinsically motivated when it's possible."

Vellutino, F.& Scanlon, D. (2002). The Interactive Strategies approach to reading instruction. "Contemporary Educational Psychology" 27, 573-635.

"Just talk to them. Ask them questions about mundane stuff. Sports is always a good intro. And as far as tutoring them, going through assignments with them, but insisting that they think instead of just telling them the answers."
"One of the biggest things that will separate your mentors and mentees will be language. Our society, including our schools, values middle/upper-middle class white language as the only acceptable form of English. This puts any "other" kids at a severe disadvantage. Teachers, in their zeal to teach children proper English, will often frustrate their students with interruptions and corrections until the students decide to just not talk in class anymore. So, for mentoring, I would remind your mentors not to constantly correct the children's grammar, even though they do so with the best intentions. If they do, they will miss out on the story the child is trying to tell, and they will make that child feel inferior."
"I had to understand their personalities before I could begin to know how to talk to them, to teach them, and to discipline them."
"I learned that when I respect the children, they would respect me."
"My first day at the sites was disastrous. I was assigned to work with three of the older boys who, I would soon discover, were the most difficult in the program. I was easily discouraged and worried the whole night that education was not for me, and I would never be able to handle difficult children in a classroom. Since that first day, I have learned to gain respect and to reciprocate that respect, to get to know the kids individually, to discover their likes and dislikes, how they learn most effectively, what their strengths and weaknesses are, a lot about discipline and culture and much more.
"I had this boy who was at times was very resistant to doing anything I asked him to do. I tried for the next lesson to take his trading cards that he loved so much and make a lesson out of them. He could talk about these cards forever so when I asked him to read the cards to me or write a paragraph about his favorite trading cared, he was excited to do it. It was a great feeling to finally relate to him."
"I don't think we always realize how much we can learn from children. We expect them to listen and learn from us, but they have so much to teach us. We just have to be willing to open up, listen, and forget that 'they are only children.' They know and see a lot more than we give them credit for. They are sensitive to feelings, that as we grow up, we sometimes become desensitized to, and they allow themselves to express when they are sad or angry..."
"Quite frequently I recognized a little bit of myself in the kids I was helping. They complained about their homework just as I did. One specific day really jarred my memory. I was helping one of my kids with a book report and I realized that he knew more and had very intriguing thoughts about the book, thoughts that he had not demonstrated in his report. He was selling himself short by not giving his best effort. So I finally said 'look, I used to do the same type of things'. He said he finds himself satisfied with his work too often and he will try to take the extra step."