The Importance of Mentorship – Luke Kane

Luke Kane is the Director of Education Programs at ITEC. Luke coordinates Techtronics and the 2020 Girls Program. He acts as the liaison to ITEC’s site partners and instructors. Luke also coordinates the development of curriculum, among many other projects and tasks.

I used to be a teacher at an after-school program, and most people would describe our kids as “low-socioeconomic”, “tough,” and “comes from a broken home.” They wouldn’t be wrong. None of the kids that I worked with had two parents at home, most of their dads were in and out of jail, and most were on free and reduced lunch. Beyond those things, however, they were just like any other kids. They liked video games, hanging out at the park with each other, and playing sports. They disliked homework and being told what to do or what not to do.

One student, in particular, was almost a daily challenge. He was a bully and the one kid who I constantly thought about outside of work. He was bossy, disrespectful, and downright mean at times. In the end, when I left for another job, he was the one that was the most devastated; he cried the entire day. I had never seen him that upset about anything in the year that I was there, and this was a kid whose mom had been to jail for punching his dad. So why was he so upset when I left? I don’t mention this because I think that I’m awesome. I mention it because it illustrates the bond and the connections that we have the opportunity to form when we work directly with kids.

One of the strategies that I used to deal with his “bullying” was to actually give him more responsibility. It sounds counterintuitive, but by using my own leadership as an example, I could guide him into much more cooperative behavior and into making team-friendly decisions. I used to tell him that being a leader is hard and you have to make a lot of unselfish decisions. And he respected me and my example because of the honesty and respect that I showed him. A lot of kids get told what to do, but hardly ever why to do it. With these kids, I would explain almost every decision I made so that they could understand the point of view I was coming from.

Putting him in a role of leadership was also a huge boost to his self-esteem. As a 5th grader, he struggled mightily with the fact that he was the shortest kid in a room that included 3rd graders. He compensated for it by going overboard with a macho, tough-guy persona. And that got him into a lot of trouble with me and his school. I used to try to defuse that persona by pointing out the things he was good at. Kids like him aren’t told very often that they excel at something. But he was very good at three things: dancing, drawing, and sports. I also believe that with good mentorship, he could be a great leader someday.

As educators, we have a responsibility not only to the academic success of our students, but to their overall health and well-being, which includes helping them make better decisions, being better people, and being successful at whatever they choose to do.

 

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