As we start the 2016-17 school year, I have been thinking about the difference between merely teaching my children and taking on the role of mentoring my children.
Our children need to be taught, of course. We have been planning, ordering books, and making schedules and lesson plans, and here we are in September, at the cusp of the school year. Our children will be taught this year. Their young minds will absorb many things and they will learn a lot.
Will our children also be mentored? By whom will they be mentored?
According to the trusty ol’ Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a teacher is “one that teaches; one whose occupation is to instruct.” A mentor is “a trusted counselor or guide.”
Our kids need more than just teaching. They need to be counseled and guided. They need mentoring.
If you read my last blog post, you might recognize the word “mentoring.” My thoughts have turned to the concept of mentoring a lot after reading Oliver DeMille’s book, A Thomas Jefferson Education.
Mentoring is different from mere teaching because mentors have a more long-term, vested interest in our children. We also want to teach them how to think and to cultivate their character and spiritual well-being.
Let’s be honest. I think most people homeschool precisely because they understand the need for mentoring and they want to mentor their own children. We don’t set out to simply replace a traditional-school teacher and wear another hat. From the beginning, mentoring is what motivates us. And we also know it’s not simply an evening-and-weekend job.
I hope that, as my children grow, there will be other wonderful, quality adults who are experts in their fields—and also in spiritual matters—who can come alongside my kids and help to mentor them. Even now, we utilize some resources with a part-time classical school, and my kids already benefit from other teachers.
But regardless of the other mentors that may come and go in a child’s life, her parents are the most pivotal. Parents are a child’s first mentor and have the most lasting impact.
Here are some distinguishing characteristics of a mentor:
- The mentor uses real books—as opposed to mere textbooks—to teach life lessons.
- The mentor tailors education to a student’s specific needs and interests.
- The mentor seeks to inspire students and lead by example.
- The mentor engages in important discussions with the student to teach the student how to think and to teach character and truth.
- The mentor takes students outside of the classroom to learn important lessons. DeMille, in his book, indicates that students should be taken to court hearing and on service projects, etc., to spur more discussions between mentor and student. (My personal opinion: no one does this better than homeschoolers.)
- The mentor discusses current events with students.
My role as mentor to my kids is enormously consequential. To me, it’s worth putting aside other good and important things, for the time being, to deeply invest in the lives of my children during this fleeting season of their childhood.
There are so many things vying for my attention right now, and I’m sure you can relate! I love all those “outside things,” and it’s hard to say no. Those things seem glamorous and important. And they are. But when I stop and ask myself, “Who is going to seriously mentor my kids right now?” The answer is: no one will but me.
Stay the course, parents. You are doing such important work. The most important work.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images by Amy Koons.