What Should A Mentoring Experience Provide?

by Raymond J. Dagenais, Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy, Aurora, IL, USA

There once was a young man named Ed.
Who measured the things that he said.
Carefully listening while visibly bristling.
His heart took advice from his head.

Ed is not a fictional character. He is an average Mexican/American citizen and he worked as a machinist in a small tool and die shop on the west side of Chicago. At 28 years of age, with a high school education, a wife, two sons, a mortgage payment on a small home in the city, and car pay ments, what would this man be able to offer in terms of a mentoring experience?

Mate, the foreman of the shop, was an elderly gentleman in his early 60's who was of stern persuasion and who possessed limited patience. There was only one way to run a shop, Mate's way. The patience that new workers required in order to learn the skills of the job was provided by Ed. He would not only take the time to graciously answer even the most simple questions, he would also watch over the new workers, offering suggestions on task skills as well as how to react to Mate.

Workers came and went, some not being able to cope with Mate, others never intending to remain for more than a few weeks. Reliable and responsible workers like Ed could be counted on one hand. Yet even these qualities did not spare Ed from the fury of Mate's tirades. As Mate would be "correcting" Ed for some minor decision which was not aligned with Mate's way of thinking, Ed would stand there and take the abuse, admit the error of his ways and get right back to work. An outsider looking in would call Ed a wise man for holding his tongue and saving his retorts about Mate for his co-workers. But, funny thing, the outsider would be only partially correct. What could a man like Ed possibly contribute to the development of another?

The important point lies in the reason the outside observer is only partially correct in the assessment of the situation. It is true that Ed
is a wise man. However, it is not for the display of fortitude that kept him from telling Mate what Ed thought of the foreman's behavior.
Responding to chides spurring him to give Mate "a piece of his mind," Ed's respect for Mate would emerge as he would say with an embarrassed smile, "No, Mate was right and that is his way of communicating." Truly a remarkable display of wisdom coming from an "average" citizen.

This behavior was actually only one small bit of evidence that reflected the greater gifts to be shared. There could not be a better
model of a father and husband who loved his family, a worker who was content with his work or a human being who displayed a more positive attitude about life. No matter what the situation, Ed not only found the "good" in it but firmly believed that the "good" was of a conscious nature and intent. It would be difficult for a protege who was looking for a mentor to say that the attention Ed paid to newcomers in terms of job skills and dealings with Mate, his remarkably positive attitude, and his well developed sense of humor were qualities which would not be beneficial to be shared.

There are components of achieving the status of becoming a fully functioning human being which stand apart from material goods or money. In many respects these components are qualities and characteristics which are more difficult to achieve than money, material possessions or job titles. Literature on the mentoring experience and the mentoring relationship in particular is laced with examples of mentors like Ed. These individuals have great treasures to offer a protege with a keen eye.
An analysis and synthesis of such mentoring experiences has revealed dimensions of successful mentoring experiences and the associated characteristics which define these dimensions. The following outline organizes this information.

Career Dimension

Psychosocial Dimension

Project (Job Skills) Dimension

So what did Ed have to offer in terms of these dimensions? Ed's external support in standing up for or putting in a good word for a new
worker is reflective of the characteristics defining the Career Dimension. His personal support in acting as a role model in his dealings with other human beings is evidence of the attention to Psychosocial Dimension characteristics. The knowledge and information he shared concerning the skills required to do quality work is an example of behaviors related to Project (Job Skills) Dimension characteristics. The combination of these habits of mind and behaviors leaves little doubt that a protege would be extremely fortunate to have Ed as a mentor in such a predictably successful mentoring experience.