Ten months, Teens & Tutoring - What I learned from mentoring high school students

Wait, what?!

You might be thinking - “Maria, why the heck are you hanging out with children once a week?” Well - here’s some background.

For the last ten months, I've spent almost every Tuesday evening at Laurentian Public School as a tutor and mentor for students in high school. When I was told last summer that as part of my course work I would have to not only interact, but also mentor students in high school - truthfully, I was not happy about it. I felt that I couldn't possibly have anything to offer these students.

My course was the sociology of at-risk youth and explored theories that have been developed over time that focus on how we can bring children out from their less-than-ideal situations, and promote a life of prosperity and success going forward. The commute was almost an hour long each way and I would typically have to rush out from work in order to make it on time. But when December came around and it was the end of my term, I decided to stay.

Why would you stay?

I decided to stay because I learned that I can offer guidance to students. Many of these students have faced challenges in their lives - from poverty, familial issues or being stressed out about grades - I remembered being there once. There’s often a saying that makes it way through the internet that says '“Be who you needed in middle school.” This resonated with me when I started this program because I was answering questions that these students had that I wasn’t able to get answers to myself as a teen.

Cue embarrassing photo of me in high school to show you that i was, in fact, an embarrassing high school student at one point  (YEs the photo is meant to be sideways. Do you even tumblr?)

Cue embarrassing photo of me in high school to show you that i was, in fact, an embarrassing high school student at one point (YEs the photo is meant to be sideways. Do you even tumblr?)

I remember one Tuesday, I was discussing post-high school life with a student. They said that they wanted to be a police officer, but they didn’t know how to achieve any of that. Fortunately, I was in a course specifically focused on policing and how police officers are trained. We spent the two hours researching policing college programs, putting together an application package, and working through concerns that their parents have. This is the thing - a guidance counsellor in a school does not have hours to spend with a student. They typically have to manage many students and can only commit to a short-term sessions helping them with their future. If the student is like this one, or like myself, and didn’t have parents who had received an education, the whole system becomes to foreign.

Another time, I told the students that I failed math in high school. They were shocked! A university student, who works full time, failed math in high school?! To them, it was the ultimate defeat to fail something in their life. I explained to them that failing my math course helped me learn what subjects I obviously don’t excel in, and lead me to think more about pursuing education in the arts. They had a moment of clarity where they said “If she could fail math in high school and get into university, maybe I can to” - I will admit it’s not easy to encourage teenagers to not just give up and fail the course in hopes that it gets better, but showing them that with hard work and dedication, you can get past obstacles, really helps.

Tell me about impact

It was at this point where I realized that I truly can be helpful for these students. Just by attending university I know the ropes of how they can have their own chance. After spending eight hours of their day in class, usually they would come to the program for two hours, 2-3 times per week. These kids are exhausted. They take care of siblings, work jobs to support their families, and are simply trying their best.

One day when one of the students was feeling particularly chatty, she told me about her experiences in school. She described how she often is not taken seriously or is not listened to by administration because she doesn’t do well in school. It’s clear that this student has barriers that need to be worked through, but administration is seeing past them instead of intervening to help. At the end of the day, she simply stopped me and said “thank you for listening to me.” This particularly touched me because that’s all she wanted. She just wanted to be listened to in a world where no one is giving her a chance.

Near the end of my time with the program, I saw two students that I work closely with get accepted into college. I helped two others solidify their post-secondary school plan, and proof-read countless essays. I didn’t realize how much of an impact I could make until I met these students who simply are looking for help.

In my Letter to First Generation University Graduates, I talk about how all it takes is someone believing in you to be successful. Throughout my university degree, the research suggests that it’s not wealth, status or opportunity that encourages success (although those things definitely help!) it’s actually just someone who believes in you. I believe in them. These students taught me to be a better listener, not be so quick to judge people and to try to spread positivity wherever you go.

Thank you Pathways by Carizon Family and Community Services for opening my eyes to our future generations. Teenage-hood is a hard time for everyone, let’s focus on encouragement instead.

HAnging out in washington, dc (grade 11)

HAnging out in washington, dc (grade 11)

No - i was not scared. That’s just how I smiled (grade 9)

No - i was not scared. That’s just how I smiled (grade 9)

Peace sign and duck face - ‘nuff said. (grade 10)

Peace sign and duck face - ‘nuff said. (grade 10)

girl-who-finally-got-her-braces-off (grade 11 maybe)

girl-who-finally-got-her-braces-off (grade 11 maybe)


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