Good teachers want to make a positive impact on your life. They do this by trying to share both knowledge and the love of learning through their classroom teaching, and when the conditions are right, teachers can also have a profound impact on their students through one-on-one mentoring relationships.
Sometimes these teacher-student mentorships arise naturally: you might get to know a teacher through an after-school club, or take the initiative to learn more from a teacher who is an expert in a subject you’re passionate about. But even when it doesn’t occur naturally, you should make the effort to deliberately cultivate meaningful relationships with teachers you like and think you could learn from.
Why Seek Out Mentors in High School?
Though most colleges brag about their small class sizes and low student-to-faculty ratio, a Gallup poll from 2014 indicated that the vast majority of college students could not identify a faculty mentor. This is worrying because one of the most important benefits of college is the opportunity to cultivate a mentoring relationship with a faculty member. In fact, students with a faculty mentor were twice as likely to be happy with their post-graduate jobs.
But you don’t—and shouldn’t—wait until college to build a mentoring relationship with an adult. Studies have demonstrated that benefits abound for mentees, even at the high school level. One such study found that teenagers who had adult mentors “ reported increases in self‐esteem, connectedness to peers, and social support from friends.” By generously sharing their experiences and wisdom with teenagers, these mentors catalyze tremendous personal, social, and academic growth. We advise you to practice what will likely become a lifetime skill by seeking out mentors while still in high school.
How to Find a Mentor
Typically, the most accessible mentors in your life are teachers, but potential mentors also include coaches, religious leaders, and club advisors.
Teachers see their students nearly every day, sometimes over the course of many years. They have the unique opportunity of watching and encouraging the growth of their students in an academic setting. It’s also important to note that, in many cases, these are the same teachers who will one day write letters of recommendation for your college applications, which ask them to offer reflections on your growth. The students who have developed strong relationships with these teachers tend to elicit the most telling and supportive letters.
How to Build a Relationship
Establishing a mentoring relationship with a faculty member definitely takes time and effort. If you choose a current teacher, you obviously need to be on your best behavior during class. This includes being punctual, attentive, and engaged. The teacher should see the best version of you!
In addition, as with any relationship, communication is key: you should regularly communicate with your mentor. This can happen in informal ways (e.g., continuing a discussion with a teacher after class) or more formal ways (e.g., scheduling a longer meeting). The point is that you initiate and engage in one-on-one interactions with your teacher.
This kind of interaction comes naturally for some students, while for others it may feel awkward. While it’s important to always be authentic, it’s also okay if this kind of relationship-building feels uncomfortable at first. If you’re willing to move outside your comfort zone, you will have the opportunity to develop a relationship that is natural and meaningful, and that awkward feeling will disappear before long.
As you nurture your mentoring relationships with teachers, those teachers can in turn hold you accountable for your responsibilities, help you identify your strengths, and even assist you in discerning possible career and educational paths. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve supported students through difficult decisions, acted as a sounding board for ideas, and even served as an homework-accountability partner. In many ways, a mentor may serve as a sort of life coach who supports, listens, and advises.
Developing mentoring relationships is a muscle-like skill that gets better with practice. By doing this in high school, you will be equipping yourself with the tools to make personal connections in college and beyond.