We love hearing stories from our mentors. While working with students one-on-one, sometimes they see the most clear progress whether academic, emotional or spiritual as they’re able to dig in deep and work through tough problems with their mentees. Sometimes those problems are bullies at school – sometimes it’s math. Check out our story below from one of our devoted mentors.
“Can you read me the answer you came up with?”
“Wait, look again!”
“Oh yeah! Six-billion…”
“Did you ever think you would be able to do a math problem that would have an answer in the billions?”
“No…” (sheepishly grinning ear to ear with a profound sense of accomplishment and competence)”.
This is the actual answer to a math problem I gave to Matteo to reinforce his times 8 multiplication tables. I have labored with Matteo for almost two years, often questioning myself during times of little or no apparent progress: Do I do enough? Should I plan our time better? Am I too hard/soft?
While I’ve seen great progress in his reading, he HATES math and recently expressed his anger and frustration with doing math homework in no uncertain terms. At the time it was tempting to think this was due to mere laziness, yet the kind of visible pain on his face during his melt-down forced me to realize there was something deeper going on. In prayer I felt led to take a month off from anything academic with him, and just have fun during our time together. When we once again returned to academics, that respite seemed to have given his mind and spirit breathing room sufficient to try again with math. Suddenly, he was flying through his multiplication tables, (mostly) willingly and with a better attitude.
I think the old adage that sometimes less is more can be true when it comes to mentoring. Being willing to step back and take a deep breath, even when mentees seem so far behind can be more helpful than pushing through. It’s so important not to underestimate the power of a sense of competence gained from visible achievements. No one I know likes to be forced into something exposing their weakness. The mileage Matteo gained by being affirmed and celebrated in his achievement of getting the answer to a billion dollar question was just what the Doctor ordered. It wasn’t that he needed to work harder. He needed to know and to see that he was, in fact, smart enough to do it.