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Mentoring and teaching hard to reach students

Posted by Elaine Thomas on Friday, 2 August 2019
Elaine Thomas
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The Hard to Reach

We are all familiar with this scenario. You enter the school building, neither happy nor upset about being at school, again.

Even though it’s the only place where you really get any peace and quiet, away from the mayhem of domestic family life, you begrudgingly say hi to those you see at the start of the school day.

In the corridors at lunchtime you walk around wearing a big smile, masking the fact that you really just need a time out to be alone, some space to think and order your thoughts.
Maybe someone to talk to would be good; but everyone is so busy with their own work and trying to get the best grades.

Come to think of it, even if there was someone to speak to, you wouldn’t trust them with your secrets? How could you tell them that you are having a hard time at home, that your body sometimes feels too weak to get up and leave the house in the morning, or that you feel lost, vulnerable and need some kind of change to break the negative cycle you’re in.

help burnout

So, instead of sharing your problems, you avoid meaningful conversation, get short tempered with the constant changes taking place in the school, forget the bigger picture and plan for your future career and reject any support for fear that you will look weak and not able to do your work.

This is the hard to reach learner, the young person who unknowingly feels the same as the hard to reach teacher.

The good news is; hard to reach teachers have standardised supervision and mentoring to give them a safe space to articulate any barriers to fulfilling their job role whether via email or in a face to face conversation.

Likewise, the hard to reach learner will have support systems in place to help them overcome barriers to their learning.

So what’s the difference?

When a hard to reach teacher comes head to head with a hard to reach learner, the hard to reach teacher is able to rally the support of their colleagues in proving that the learner is a cause for concern or distraction to others learning.

As a result, the hard to reach learners’ reputation and position in the school deteriorates and face being at risk of exclusion.

mentor puzzle piece

When a hard to reach learner comes head to head with a hard to reach teacher, the hard to reach learner and his or her peers’ experience, views or opinions have little weight in opposing or protecting the hard to reach learner.

The power of their teachers and their (often time unconscious) plight to have a stress-free, problem child free class supersede.

Are there similarities?

In the eyes of the mentor the hard to reach teacher and the hard to reach learner are cut from the same cloth.The only difference is that we mentor the hard to reach learner, usually at risk of exclusion, to overcome the feeling of being bullied, violated or set up by teachers.

Simultaneously, we are then cut off from sharing our professional observations, skills and techniques to support the hard to reach teacher in exploring alternative ways to engage a mid-puberty teenager.

One that is unknowingly vulnerable, attempting to assert independence from their parents or worse trying to survive the parents abuse or neglect, while at the same time trying to navigate the complex web of uncertainty, called their future.


"...raise your teaching practice by getting to know those learners who challenge you."

mentor heads

Sharing best practice

Professional youth mentors have nuggets of wisdom, invaluable for all school staff, that shine a light on the mind set and complexities of today’s ‘youth school- culture’ that can enhance the teaching practice of the most powerful, driven and committed teacher.

We say if you love to teach, teach and raise your teaching practice by getting to know those learners who challenge you.

You’d be surprised at how similar the learner’s situation, personality, core values or coping mechanism are to your own!

Speak to a professional youth mentor for expert guidance in how to engage your most challenging learner, and feel secure enough to be an open, approachable, reflective, empathic, integral and strategically supportive teacher... also known as an ‘Easy To Reach’ teacher.



About our Community Expert 


Elaine Thomas
Community Expert

Director of The mentoring Lab, Elaine has over 15 years of experience in teaching, employment, mentoring, supporting learning and career progression.

Elaine is the Opogo community expert working with young people and adults to prevent underachievement in their learning or careers.

Topics: Mentoring


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