It’s time to welcome skilled (retired) mentors into classrooms

I’m sure many people will recognize this scenario – someone in your community, maybe a friend, relative, or passing acquaintance – has retired from their 9 to 5 and is experiencing life at a different pace.  In talking with them, you discover they have deep expertise in a particular area and they would be pleased to share that expertise with, well, anyone younger or older who might be interested in learning from them.

I often encounter this scenario in my community,  and can’t help but reach a couple of quick conclusions:
i. such people have real skills and expertise to contribute to society, and
ii. we aren’t doing enough to recognize these skills and invite these people to contribute as mentors and advisors.


There’s no substitute for Mentoring from real experts, and it’s time schools welcomed the mentors who want to help but have been shut out.

If there’s one aspect of conventional schooling that is blinded to opportunity it is in failing to recognize and welcome community expertise “into the classroom.” When I’ve inquired about this – as a parent and also an educator – school administrators are usually quick to snuff the idea: we don’t have the staffing to check references and process criminal record checks; these people aren’t in the teaching union; or, we didn’t budget for that.

These are disingenuous excuses for shutting these people out. As a result, students are shortchanged an opportunity to learn from someone with authentic, deep expertise. And in the worst scenario, which also happens far too frequently, students end up learning from a ‘certified’ teacher who nonetheless has little to no expertise in the subject area for which he/she has been recruited to teach. That’s a raw deal, and kids know these situations and resent them, as would anyone.

Over the years in SelfDesign – the innovative BC independent school I helped co-found in 2002 – I have gone out of my way to hook up these people with learners, and I’m relishing a recent experience of hooking up a retired postal worker – who happens to be a math whiz – with a learner who was really needing some 1:1 tutoring. With a little coaching from me on the sidelines, the relationship has been fruitful for both parties.  Previously, I’ve recruited artists, scientists, engineers and skilled trades people for one-off or ongoing workshops, most of which have likewise been fruitful.

SelfDesign is ahead of the curve on this issue. And as a learning consultant I believe it’s time and money well spent in engaging someone with career experiences and skills to offer, crim-checks and all. These mentors feel good about ‘giving back,’ and our children and youth are afforded an enriching learning opportunity, as should be the case.

With education resources being incrementally reduced across the board, it is past time to consider how to welcome people with authentic expertise into our classrooms, everywhere. And with a bulging demographic of people on the cusp of retiring, I foresee no shortage of future mentors to draw on.

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