A Different Kind of Education

A story about the positive influence of an attentive, male authority figure in young boys’ lives, and how a different style of tutoring improves attitudes and grades in the classroom.

Around 10 years ago, an opportunity for mentoring came to me. As I understood it at the time, my part was to assist young people (elementary school students) who were having challenges academically. Having had some challenges academically myself; it seemed like an interesting project.

Being male, all the referrals to me were young boys, ages 9 thru 11, and as it turned out, all were from single parent homes, mothers only, no fathers in residence.

My first student was named Zack, a high energy, restless young dude. Zack was described by his teacher as “disruptive, unable to focus and with poor reading and comprehension skills.”

We met once a week, 50 minutes at a time. During the first session, I asked Zack to read from a class assigned book and tell me what it meant. To my surprise, he read well, out loud, and explained what it meant very well.

So, my first thought was I misunderstood the teacher’s explanation of why he was in mentoring. However, we spent he first session, both of us – bored, doing what his teacher requested.

During the second visit, I asked Zack what he would like to do and he gave a quick smile and immediate answer – ” go outside.”

Zack knew exactly where he wanted to go. At the rear of the school gym, some excavation had been done and left, he told me some other boys had found some arrow heads there, although they were not allowed there during recess.

So that is where we went, as I told him what I knew about the Comanche People, the earlier local residents of where we now lived. We had a great time and agreed his teacher did not need to know what we were doing together.

The next week, I bought him a book about local tribes that he devoured it in one sitting. We then spent our mentoring sessions outside, making spears from bamboo growing behind the gym and “competing” to see who could be more accurate with their spears, throwing them at a cardboard box we found.

We never found arrowheads, and really didn’t care too much, as we talked a lot about many things,
even how he felt about no father present.

Two weeks later, after the “spear throwing” contest, a note was in my box from his teacher, thanking me about the wonderful progress Zack was making in reading and behavior in class.

The next student I got to “work” with was Benny, who supposedly had trouble in math. Like Zack, when he demonstrated for me, he seemed to do fine, so we went outside and played “Calvin Ball”- so named for the well-known cartoon characters of Calvin and Hobbs. Calvin Ball has no rules at all; they are made up as we play, changing constantly – huge laughs.

Again, after two weeks, Benny’s teacher sent me a note praising my “work” with him and sharing how much better he was doing in class and how pleased she was.

If she was pleased, Benny and I were both pleased, as he really disliked her criticism.

So, to keep this sharing practical, this pattern of spending time with the young dudes was repeated for several years with all the boys referred, with the same results. A group of female teachers even asked that I do a session with them on my “teaching techniques.” -What a hoot.

Maybe it can be imagined, my time with them did not seem too useful to the teachers. Maybe they did not believe me – hard to tell.

The mentoring I received was to look into my own history, my time with my father and how we got along, or more correctly, did not get along, and the impact that had on my attitudes and development into manhood. Perhaps my history helped me find time and energy to do the mentoring in the first place.

I think what was learned was how unconditional caring and attention, free of criticism gave something to these young people that seemed to be missing in their lives.
Maybe the attention of a male authority figure, who was not trying to push them in any particular direction was more important than I had ever realized, even from my own childhood. I certainly began to have good memories of men who had been that way with me.

Since I have a son and now one grandson, those years mentoring have given me a great gift- on “how to.” I have great Gratitude to the teachers and especially the young boys who helped me learn such important things.

by Hal Robinson

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