For National Mentoring Month we asked our mentors to tell us about mentoring. Mentor Nick, a mentor at Castlemont High School, talked with our board member Sue Wollowitz. You can watch the video here. Below are excerpts from the interview that have been edited only for readability.
Today I'm talking to Nick. He is a professional tutor and has been a mentor with Oakland Serves since spring of 2023. He currently mentors Algebra 1 at Castlemont High School. Hi Nick, tell us what motivated you to mentor with Oakland Serves?
My job is to tutor high school students. I do it all day professionally for students who can afford tutoring, but I also wanted to try to meet with a different population, and find students who are struggling, not just because the difficulty of the classes, but also because of other circumstances in their lives, and I think that meeting with students has been really rewarding.
Can you give a quick description of what a typical classroom mentoring session is like?
Sure. For example in the class with a lot of juniors and seniors retaking Algebra 1, the teacher would give a worksheet that students can start working on for five or 10 minutes before a lecture demonstration, taking them through the questions. The problem is that a lot of the students were struggling with material to begin with and they were having a hard time following the lecture. So I circulate around and work with students 1:1 to help them understand the problems. Hopefully they wouldn't fall behind, even if the lecture didn't make a big impression. Of course the teacher is doing a little bit of circulating himself and helping out students with the worksheet.
How do you think the classroom mentoring helps these particular students in class?
Having a 1:1 mentor is a completely different dynamic. A lot of those students were out of it during lectures and I'm like maybe these kids just don't care about this class at all. But really it was just the opposite when I ask if they need help. They would put their phones away and say “yeah, I was really stuck on this. I didn't know what to do”. Catching them up like that when they get that 1:1 attention really showed me how much they care.
I definitely found the same thing when I was working with the kids. They get stuck and they don't know how to ask for help and so they just sort of move on mentally. But they really do like the feeling of success when they can complete something.
Being in the classroom with them helped me realize that listening to lecture, it doesn't work for everybody. For a lot of the kids we work with, that system has not worked for them but really 1:1 they really do perk up. I think they can kind of get past that feeling of futility. It's not like they're unable to learn the material. It's just that they haven't engaged with the way they've been taught the material before. So to me that's the biggest difference with having a mentor. A teacher often has to oversee 10 to 30 kids. There's no way they can sit down with every single one in the limited time they have.
Yes, I completely agree. Do you ever talk to the students about topics other than the classwork?
A lot of them not only are trying to deal with school, but I remember a couple of them had jobs just to support themselves and their families working at Jack-in-the-Box till 2 AM and then get up and make it to school. I really had to admire their hustle and the fact that they're not giving up their education. I had a student this semester who was distracted and kept looking at the window. He said “I'm a little worried about my sister. She's kind of falling in with a bad crowd. She's not texting me back. I wanna make sure she doesn't get mixed up with these people”.
And I had a student with some food insecurity issues. What is the best part of mentoring for you?
There's a lot that I really enjoy. I've had a couple students who’ve said something like this: “Makes so much more sense now. I really like to learn this math and I just haven't been able to do it till now”. I want these students to understand that they're not dumb. They haven't failed. Maybe they haven’t engaged with the material the way it's presented. Maybe they've had other challenges in their lives, but they can do this if they get some help and if they are willing to put some attention in. There's only so much impact you can have one day a week, but even in that short time sometimes I've seen students have those realizations and I think that's the most rewarding part for me.
I could not agree with you more. Every single one of those kids who gets a chance to be successful this year is one kid who's got a better chance of being successful in their life. Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.