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Welcome to the Mentor Learning Center

How to Mentor a Student with Academic Challenges

This article serves to help mentors assist mentees in their academic endeavors, even if they are not struggling. Note: there are privacy rules in place in which schools do not share grades, report cards, test scores, or any transcripts with anyone but the family. However, your mentee may tell you directly how they are standing academically. As a mentor, you do not need to know specifics about your mentee's academic accomplishments and/or challeneges in order to be effective and influential. Below lists some strategies to help support your mentee with their classes, tests, and coursework.

If your mentee deflects academic conversations

Oftentimes students want to avoid the subject their grades and academic progress altogether. Moreover, you might hear them rationalize why they may be struggling:

  • "That teacher hates everyone!"
  • "I can't stand that class!"
  • "Nobody helps me or cares how I do!"
  • "I missed a few classes and the teacher didn't let me make up the work."

There's seemingly endless amount of excuses you have heard and may hear in the future. Your mentee may be embarrassed by their academic standing, jealous of their friends' accomplishments, and/or frustrated by their lack of progress. They may feel disempowered to do anything about their grades, and react stronly because of that. In any case, try not to focus on the rationalization given by the mentee, but more on what the root cause might be. The following sections might give you ideas of how to start overcoming any obstacles in the way of the mentee. 

Finding past positive academic experiences

If your mentee is hitting a roadblock with their academic progress, try having them remember one positive experience they have had in the past. This could be a single project, a classroom activity, a teacher, a specific class or subject. Try not to focus on an outcome, such as a grade or prize, because those will be harder to replicate in practice. If you and your mentee can identify why a certain project was successful and enjoyable, you two can start focusing on the aspects of it that made it positive and try to replicate that experience, or integrate that type of work in future classes.

For instance, a mentee might have like an english book report because they got to create a song to explain the plot. Perhaps there's ways to integrate those tactics in other work, or your mentee might be able to work with the literature in new ways in a different class. There may be an interest or passion that they have never realized. By focusing on memorable moments in learning, you and your mentee may be able to move forward in productive ways. 

Finding what motivates them in other aspects of life

Your mentee may show incredible perseverence and dedication to overcoming obstacles in other areas of life. Perhaps they have created a band with their friends and they consistently practice, or have tried beating a certain level in their favorite video game, or are a great employee at their place of work. There are probably many areas you mentee has overcome challenge, and you can use that to make connections about schoolwork.

For example: "Learning is a skill that is built over time. To do it well, you need to work hard at it. Learning happens at the point of challenge."

Connecting their schoolwork with future goals

Your mentee may not see the point in trying hard at subjects that don't seem relevant to what they want to do later in life. For instance, they may be really interested in working in the music industry, but don't see the point in social studies or math. You can help make the connection to conflict resolution from social studies helping you mentee work within political structures at work, or understand the business and accounting behind the music industry. 

You can also identify various of professions within fields that they are interested in, but have never been exposed to. With all those professions will be different expertise and backgrounds that 

Encouraging owning their own learning

Your mentee finds themselves in a time in their life that is filled with uncertainty, ambivalence of the future, drastic social, cultural, and hormonal changes, as well as gaining more and more responsibilities as they get older. In this time of change, they may need to focus on the things they can control. They may not realize how much they can advocate for their schoolwork. As a mentor, the best way to support your mentee in this area is to help build their confidence to ask for help in areas where they can improve. This may be one of the most translatable skills for college success that your mentee can cultivate. You can take this opportunity for your mentee to grow as their own advocate. 

Reiterating that learning is not just about school

Your mentee might lose site of the fact that learning doesn't just happen in a school. Learning is a life skill that is consistently built upon and practiced. You can help identify all the areas that your mentee currently enjoys learning outside of school. Your mentee may like learning how to sing new songs, read books not required for classes, learn new skills at a job, play sports, write poetry, etc. Your mentee may not recognize their interests and passions as learning, so you can help them to understand that new experiences require learning.