mentorshipJoy (and Frustration) in the Journey

I call each student to my desk and they show me their journals, where they have written steps they need to take to complete a goal. Goal setting does not come easily to my kids. They come from homes where children learn early what surviving from paycheck to paycheck really means.

You might not eat more than gravy for days a time. It means you might have to steal the ingredients from the local store in order to make the gravy. Adults turn their backs as you lift items off the shelf and shove them in your pockets. After all, they know your dad hasn’t gotten out of jail and no one has seen your mom for a week.

Yes. Poverty stalks my students from birth. Abuse steals what poverty leaves behind. ‘False’ marches in front of that four-letter word—hope—like a mocking clown.

Some days, I want to run screaming from my classroom. A student knows what caused Manute Bol’s early death, but reads at the third grade level. Another knows the names of all the greatest battleships, but has parents who think culinary arts school is the only available future.

And so I read over her goals today and wanted to cry. “Get to know God better. Pray every day. Read my Bible. Treat others kindly. Have hope.”

“You have wonderful goals,” I told her. “I’ll pray for you.” And then I showed her the results of her latest reading test. She has pushed herself for the past four months. “Look,” I exclaim. “Your reading level has gone up 1.8 grade levels since August!”

The Joy of Reading

She looks at me in astonishment and disbelief. “For reals?” A smile steals across her face and she exclaims, “I’m gonna cry for joy!” Both of us tear up and I give her a hug. I credit her success to a stranger who has taken an interest in my girls.

mentorshipEach time Melanie Dickerson releases a new book, she autographs copies and sends them to my girls. My girls, most of whom don’t have any books in their houses, receive an autographed copy of a book from a real author. The new girls always look a little confused, but the ones who have been part of Melanie’s fan club for the last two years quickly clue them in.

“Yes, she’s a real person. You can friend her on Facebook.”

“What’s the book about?” they might question.

“It’s a fairy tale, but more grown up,” one of them exclaims, holding up a copy of The Silent Songbird. “This is Ariel from the Littlest Mermaid.” I let them do the talking, and before long, even the reluctant readers decide to tackle a giant chapter book.

Melanie retells fairy tales and sets them in Medieval Europe. Her characters combine the two things that girls can relate to—princesses and adversity.

Melanie writes her books for the YA (Young Adult) audience, but my kids get the stories and the language—even if they only read at the fourth grade level. Because of the relationship she has formed with my students, my students push themselves to read her books. A monumental task for a young person who has never read more than a picture book before.

More importantly, my girls learn about new ways to solve problems—Melanie’s heroines each have to learn how to rely on God to survive. The characters model virtues and courtesies and kindness to a generation that revels in the crass, the obscene, and the cruel.

The Joy of Mentorship

Melanie has a heart of mentorship. I love how her gifts challenge my girls to grow as readers, but more importantly, to seek a Savior.

We can all mentor teenagers. Trust me, they seem all snarly and in-your-face-unapproachable, but they only want someone to accept them. They want someone to tell them, “Hey! You can do this! I believe in you.”

Want #joy? Give the gift of #mentorship to a snarly teenager near you. Click To Tweet

Start with an attitude of acceptance. Strike up a conversation that doesn’t include the words, ‘You should.’ Ask before you give advice (and don’t give it if they don’t want it). Smile. Smile a lot. Find out what they like and don’t like. Remember what they tell you. Give them your attention (and good books to read 😉 ).

We don’t to lead people to Jesus or convict them of their sins (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job). We form meaningful relationships with people who hurt. They will want what we have and ask. And that? That brings pure joy! The joy of the Gospel blossoms when we form meaningful relationships with people who hurt. Click To Tweet


  1. Love this! They just need triple A adults in their lives: authentic, accepting and affirming. Sounds like That’s what Melanie is…and you are too! I’m over in the 4 spot this week.

  2. What a beautiful post, Anita! I love that they find such joy in books signed by a ‘real’ author! What a beautiful thing, Melanie does for your girls! I will have to find some of her books for my niece when she’s a bit older, she’s only 9 now.

  3. Wow. You’ve added another role in my relationship with my oldest. Mentor. But I agree. They want you to hear them when they talk, and they want to talk a lot. They want to know they matter to you. Thank you for such wise words.

    (#7 at FMF)

  4. anita, i am so hopeful when i read of teachers like you who work in hidden spots all over the US. it seems to me that the places where the work that is really effective in helping students change is often small and struggling. those who do it must have faith b/c they don’t see quick results. connecting the kids to GOD is going to be their only hope with such impossible odds. may GOD’s grace be with you as you carry out this counter cultural work of GOD:)
    Martha G Brady recently posted…TRUE JOY & SATISFACTION IS FOUND IN CLINGING TO JESUS…My Profile

  5. Very inspirational! I am a teacher of the little people at an elementary school. Wishing I had some teens to mentor. I imagine it does bring pure joy! Thank you for sharing and your work. God bless you! Stopping by from FMF!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

You may also like

%d bloggers like this: