It’s easy to forget there was a time before the Internet, before YouTube and before Facebook. Nowadays if you want to know how to change the power window motor on your 1994 Ford pickup, you pull up Google and do a search. Odds are good that someone has made a video telling you how.
As useful as the Internet is, what do you do if you own a less popular car like an Italian Casalini? True, if you’re as stubborn as I am, you probably watch as many videos as possible related to your problem. Replacing Dodge power window motors, replacing Honda power window motors, something is bound to be close. Once you’ve done your research, you dive in and pray that you’ve learned enough not to irrepairably damage something else.
There is another way. Before the Internet, before we could all become instant subject matter experts by watching a few select videos, there were people called mentors. Don’t get me wrong, they still exist today but they are becoming an endangered species.
Now would be a good time to agree what a mentor actually is. Merriam Webster defines mentor as someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. By that definition, all teachers would be defined as mentors. Just as I don’t believe everyone with an engineering degree is an engineer I don’t believe everyone who teaches is a mentor.
I believe a mentor is someone who goes out of his way to help others learn and acquire new skills. Just because your job is a teacher it doesn’t mean that you’re a mentor. Our current, politically handicapped, school system aside, good mentors probably make good teachers. However unlikely it may seem, your boss, co-worker or significant other may have served as a mentor to you at one time or another. Makerspaces would make perfect places to find a mentor.
I decided to write this post because of a chance comment that my aunt made to my poser gallery. It was a simple comment, she asked why I wasn’t linking the pictures to the blogs. The answer is equally simple, it takes me a fair amount of effort to put in those links and nobody ever followed them. The effort was not offset by the reward, so I stopped putting the links with the pictures.
How does that relate to mentors? Mentors share their knowledge and their time with us, often for nothing more than the thanks we give them and the joy they get from seeing other people take up new hobbies and skills. As we spend more and more time on YouTube, we become far less appreciative of the effort required to provide knowledge. The less appreciative we are, the less likely potential mentors are to take the effort to help us. Don’t let, “check YouTube,” become the mantra of bitter ex-mentors.
In my Poser Gallery, I didn’t provide the links to the articles those pictures represented because when I did, nobody followed the links. I decided not to put in the extra effort because nobody rewarded me by using those links. The last time you went the extra inch to help someone or explain to them how something worked, did they thank you, did they show any gratitude or did they forget you existed? Unfortunately I’ve been on both sides of that.
With great shame, I admit that at times people have had to endure all sorts of eye rolls, facial gestures and depreciating remarks from me to ensure they understand just how valuable my help is. By the time I’m done, I’m lucky if they don’t give up on me as a pompous ass and go search YouTube. The truth is I’m happy to be able to help them, the rest is just drama. Thanks to a few friends that called me on those actions, I’m working really hard to eliminate that portion of my show.
There’s another, less obvious, benefit to the mentor too. While I get to display my vast knowledge to someone that really wants to learn (I realize most teachers are not that fortunate but that’s another post), I also find someone that will infuse my knowledge with their excitement, often renewing my own pleasure in the field and introducing me to new concepts. I’ve watched many people take the knowledge I’ve given them to heights I never dreamed of and then turn around to kick me out of my comfort zones, pushing me to improve myself.
My point is this, if you want to be considered a mentor you have to be approachable and show you really enjoy helping people. You need to share your enthusiasm. Not everyone will thank you but when you see what people accomplish with the help of your knowledge, it makes it all worthwhile.
If you want someone to be your mentor, you have to show them you appreciate their time and effort. Not only that but you need to realize that your lack of appreciation may influence how they treat the next person requesting help. I wonder if lack of appreciation is what caused so many good teachers to leave the field.
Be a mentor or find a mentor the choice is up to you. Just don’t mess it up for the rest of us. Personally I think we need more mentors in this world. I really appreciate the ones I’ve had.Opinion by pen