Why mentors are now more important than ever

Just like the role of teachers, the role of mentors has also changed, writes student Alfie Payne

Alfie Payne

The role of mentors in education has changed due to coronavirus - but they have never been more important, writes Alfie Payne

Geoff's my mentor. We don't realise it – we've not been assigned each other through a programme, but he is. Everyone loves Geoff. Geoff is a technician, a member of support staff in my college faculty, making sure the lecturers have all the equipment they need to deliver our lessons. Geoff could also be an IT support technician, or work in the canteen.

I see Geoff most days – just as frequently as I do my tutor. He's always running around, being in four places at once, but never fails to have a smile on his face, and put a smile on mine. At the moment, Geoff can't do his job in his normal way – we're not using the physical equipment in lessons, so a fair chunk of his job just doesn't exist at the moment.


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Seeking Geoff's support

Ordinarily, my friends and I only need to go to Geoff's office when we've got a problem that our teacher doesn't have time to sort out: the camera has a dead battery, the laptop screen brightness won't turn up. Only, we've found ourselves going to see Geoff when we've got other problems, too: we can't work out what we want to do after college; what to wear to our job interview; what to do because we've forgotten it's Mother's Day this weekend (for the second year running).

Geoff remembers stuff. He remembers that he told me to bake a cake for mum, and that Matilda is desperate to make it as an influencer on Instagram. We know that he remembers because, on Sunday morning, Matilda has woken up to an email from him full of useful tips he's got from his friend (normally a former student) who is an influencer – he's spoken to her, and she's now going to speak to Matilda. Geoff wants nothing more than to help us get where we want to be. Or to work out what that destination may look like. And – most importantly to him – he wants to make sure, when we leave, we're rounded people.

Nobody really knows when this mentorship formed. Perhaps for me it was when he offered to guide me on a piece of coursework, or for Matilda it was the day he asked how she was, and she broke down because it turns out things were far from OK because her mum and dad are getting a divorce, and she’s having to put on a strong face for her younger sister. Geoff had no need to do either of those things – after all, he's not a teacher and not our tutor. But he is an educator, and loves working in a college. That's why he goes above and beyond and is happy to support us, even if it's not in his job spec.

Geoff probably feels a bit redundant right now – as I said, he can't do a fair chunk of his job. But this unscripted part of his role, where he supports people like me and Matilda, is still really important. The role of the mentor – someone to guide and to offer support, has never been needed more. But the role has changed with the current situation: now, we look to you for someone to be positive-yet-realistic with.

Geoff knows that we're not stupid; we know people are dying, we know that we can't be positive all the time. But what Geoff also knows is that we'll be OK in the end. Geoff's aims have changed – he's focused on making sure that everything, in the here and now, is going as well as it can for us.

It's difficult, as mentees, to know what we need from a mentor right now. If it's someone to talk to – what's wrong with my friends, or mum? If it's someone to provide guidance, how can you guide me more than the 5pm Downing Street press briefings do? There's nothing wrong with talking to friends or parents (and we absolutely should do that), and there's also nothing wrong with getting the latest info every day. It's good to be informed.

But what Geoff does that nobody else can, is provide that reassuring voice – even if it is only in an email or Microsoft Teams message – that everything will be OK. And how do we know it will be OK? Because Geoff says so and Geoff's never been wrong before.

Alfie Payne is a creative media college student at Farnborough College of Technology

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