This blog of mine was one of the prize-winning entries at Women’s Web Mentoring Contests, March 2023.
I belong to a profession where mentoring stands for something slightly different. I happen to mentor a bunch of twenty youngsters, from the day they take admission, till when they complete their four years of engineering. I am a professor at an engineering college, and this is my personal story.
Mentoring students is an integral part of the curriculum in colleges because it’s pretty difficult for one class teacher to monitor a class of 70-80 students. Be it the old or new education policy, mentoring is a valid criterion and our institution officially assigns one mentor to twenty students, from their day one in the department. As a mentor, my responsibilities include, maintaining their personal information, their mark sheets, and their attendance and placement records. But most importantly, as a mentor, I form a rapport with my mentees, encourage them to confide in me, monitor their progress, advise and listen to them, and most importantly, help them tackle their problems of any kind, academic or others.
To be honest, the lack of attendance, is the most pressing matter for us mentors. The university and the institution strictly adhere to 75% attendance. As soon as the first-month defaulters’ list is put up, I check the attendance of my mentees, warn the ones who are defaulting and inform the respective parents as well. Of course, we keep tabs on their academic and extra-curricular performance. The students generally do well here, as their grades are important for their placements.
But I would discuss that one mentee of mine, a girl, who kind of stood out. I wouldn’t like to disclose her name.
Her first semester passed with no worries. With full attendance, she was just like everyone else. Her second semester saw a fall in attendance though, but she was well within the required 75% mark. I did point it out to her in one of our meetings, she replied she had been traveling. When the results were out, she was one of the Top 5 in college, so somewhere I decided to give her another chance.
Come 3rd semester, things began going downhill, her attendance in lectures and labs was almost zero in the first fortnight. Thankfully it was brought to my notice, and I did what I needed to, summon her personally, right away.
She wasn’t on campus, she turned up the next day. And of course, I probed.
“Ma’am, I wasn’t feeling well. Viral fever.”
I demanded the medical certificate. And a meeting with her father.
“Ma’am, I will get you the medical certificate. There’s no need to call my parents, they’ll confirm. ”
Little do the students know, that some of us teachers are parents too, and how important it is for parents to know. Alas, most of our students, given their age, feel we mentors meddle too much in their personal lives.
But I had to win her confidence, I knew if I shouted, or phoned her parents when she was around, she could react negatively, or rebel. So, I let her off with a warning, and she sincerely attended all classes till the first-month defaulters’ list was displayed. But instinct told me there was something amiss.
Her unit test marks were high, but the disappearance act began again. I confronted her. And this time I knew I had to inform the parents.
She broke down, “Ma’am please don’t call them. I’m scared of them. I will tell you the reason. None of the boys in my class talk to me.”
“What difference does it make?” I was indeed surprised, “You let some boys decide your future?”
“No Ma’am. Almost every girl in my class is liked by some boy, they talk about their affairs all the time. Ma’am, nobody even looks at me. I get no friend requests or likes on my Insta profile. My friends receive 300 likes from boys.” She was weeping inconsolably, “I can’t mention this to my parents, they’ll thrash me.”
I was at a loss for words. Though it sounded petty now, perhaps for a young adult like her, it wasn’t. I could in fact relate, two decades ago, I remember being royally snubbed by boys in my class. And, in our country, looks could unfortunately affect a woman’s progress. The coping mechanism of course is different for different people.
I was proud of her, I told her too, for having opened up rather than lying to me. She smiled.
I did summon the mother though, she had the right to know. One of the working Saturdays, when students weren’t on campus, I arranged an audience with both mother and daughter.
My mentee had her head bowed down as I gently talked to her mother. I guess she was apprehensive about the reaction. But the poor lady was in tears as well. She took her daughter’s hands in hers and they conversed in their mother tongue. The mother translated, that her elder daughter is more physically endowed, so the relatives often made comparisons. The younger one, my mentee had seldom spoken openly about this, and she as a mother hadn’t taken notice of how hurt she was.
When they calmed down, I suggested they meet the on-campus counselor. Students did need some emotional help from time to time, and I assured my mentee’s mother that the sessions would remain strictly confidential and there was nothing to be embarrassed about.
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