I was mortified. The trainee that I was supposed to be mentoring was crying in the middle of the MFL office. She had confronted a student about their behaviour, but it had quickly become heated and the class had fallen apart.
I started to take her through what went wrong, but we couldn’t continue the conversation because she was too upset, so we agreed to revisit the incident at a later date.
As we left the room, we were both thinking the same thing: I'm a failure.
The reality is that being a mentor is the best thing in the world when your mentee is flying. You are free to give insightful and diagnostic advice that simply increases their soaring altitude. At other times, though, it can feel like walking up a mountain that you've walked up repeatedly for weeks or even months on end. When things are going wrong, it can be easy to blame yourself, feeling that you simply haven’t helped enough.
In a situation where your mentee is not making as much progress as you would like, it’s important to take stock of the positives of what you have achieved, because there will be signs of positive impact, however small.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you assess whether you have been a decent mentor so far.
1. Does your trainee keep coming back for more?
Several tough days in a row can be enough to leave anyone on the floor. If your trainee is still coming back to school day after day, that’s not solely down to them. You will inevitably have an impact on their wanting to return. Maybe it's your friendly smile or your collection of The Simpsons ties. Most likely, though, it will be the fact that your mentee feels supported and protected enough to walk through that door. That means they are learning and you are doing your job.
2. Are they more self-aware?
The same issues might still be coming up lesson after lesson, but if your mentee is now noticing the problems for themselves, then you have succeeded in coaching them to reflect on their own practice. This is huge. For many trainees, that ability to reflect is the moment when they start to correct and improve themselves. Without you, that ability to self-critique may never have surfaced.
3. Have they overcome a hump?
There will be times when you will need to have the "you're not really where you need to be" chat. It's unpleasant for everyone, but that conversation is the most important one that you'll have as a mentor. This is what will allow them to move past the inevitable plateau and ascend to the next stage of practice. It may feel like you're giving them a hard time, but it is about being realistic and signposting that this is time to act.
4. Have they kept true to their style?
It might be tempting to try to mould your mentee into a mini version of yourself, but remember that their training is not about you. If you can see a "teacher version" of your mentee slowly beginning to emerge, then that means you have them the space they need to grow. Your advice has been a map that has helped them to find their own way through their training, without dictating the specific route they must take, and they will be a better teacher for it.
Benjamin Davey is assitant headteacher at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol.