In order to answer this question, we need to be able to clearly define the difference between a tutor and a mentor. Whilst both are actively involved in the continuing guided learning advancement of a single individual or a select small group of people, their roles are significantly different in a number of ways.
Tutors support the teaching process
Tutors are more closely allied with teachers, as they work primarily with scholars, assisting those they are tutoring in learning to solve problems and arrive at conclusions on their own. They guide rather than teach, although there is an element of teaching in their approach. Teachers are governed by a set syllabus or curriculum which has to be taught within a specified period of time, and they are usually in charge of classes of scholars who are all more or less at the same level educationally. Tutors are the individuals who step in to assist those scholars who are finding it difficult to maintain the same learning or comprehension level as their classmates, and who are therefore falling behind in their studies. A tutor is usually privately employed outside of a classroom and may work with either a single individual or a small group of scholars who are all facing the same challenge in one or more subjects in which the tutor is both knowledgeable and has a high level of expertise, for instance Mathematics or Science.
Many tutors will come to their students’ homes for the tutoring sessions, or may hold such sessions in their own homes or other suitable venues if there is more than one student needing attention. Tutors will assist in bringing additional resources to the table which will assist the students in their comprehension and problem-solving skills. Because they work with individuals or smaller groups, tutors have the advantage of being able to spend as much time as is needed on the problem area, guiding the scholar through a combination of skills and comprehension analysis, teaching, application, problem-resolution and consequent resultant learning of the subject. As such, a tutor becomes a seamless blend of teacher, advisor, role model and friend. The main role of a tutor is to advise and guide students to find their own answers to the problems in a manner which is understandable to the student, and which therefore leads to learning and problem-solving.
Mentors as supportive counselors
A mentor fulfills a more in-depth role with those with whom he or she works. Mentors are not teachers as such, but act more as counselors and advisors who guide and supervise those being mentored. Mentors work in a more specialized adult-orientated capacity in various fields, often over extended periods, and have much more of a personal supportive role than that of tutors.
You might find someone in the workplace mentoring new employees during their first days or weeks in a new position, ensuring that they settle in and are comfortable with their surroundings and colleagues, job responsibilities and are performing to the best of their abilities. Mentors provide a friendly shoulder to lean on in those first uncertain weeks when the new employee, whilst wanting to prove his worth quickly in his new employment, is most likely to make mistakes whilst learning the ropes. In this role, a mentor may also act as a liaison and resolution counselor if there is friction between the new staff member and his colleagues for any reason. Such a mentor may be a person on the same seniority level or higher up the management ladder. This person may be part of a general “orientation” team or will work alone for the period of the mentorship. A workplace mentor also has his own job responsibilities, so his concentrated mentoring period is generally short, although he may be generally available at any time thereafter.
Mentors have a definite place in colleges and universities, helping the students acclimatise to the new routines, and offering additional support if needed in areas where the student might be struggling, which could be related to the subjects being studied or the new environment and routines, and helping to establish a sense of familiarity. Mentors mainly offer additional support and tutoring in subjects where the student is not coping with the lectures or subject matter.
Alcohol and Drug Mentors
Drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs often use the skills, knowledge, life experience and specific training of mentors to support and keep recovering drug or alcohol users from falling back into their old ways, and supporting them in their efforts to “kick the habit”.
A talented mentor has the ability to actively listen to the mentee – the individual being mentored – and pick up verbal clues which indicate that help might be needed. The mentor will assist his mentee to build both confidence and self-esteem by offering positive reinforcement and the stability of a person who might well have gone through the same trials and knows that the mentee will probably face the same hurdles at some point. The mentor not only provides a physical, emotional and mental “safe place” for the mentee; he is also there to encourage the mentee to achieve his goals, sometimes by using the strategy of “tough love” by discouraging weakness and forcing the mentee to keep to the agreed program. This tactic is particularly valuable when mentoring a recovering alcohol or drug addict, where it might seem the easiest route for the mentee to give up the struggle to remain sober. He must remain positive, patient, empathetic and approachable at all times.
Mentors at schools
Some schools may employ the services of a mentor who will act as a guidance counselor for the students. They may provide a number of different services in an effort to ensure that troubled children and young students are given the opportunities they need to perform at their best. Some scholars come from backgrounds and homes where difficult circumstances will directly affect both their ability to learn and their self-confidence. Mentors, in these cases, are trained in identifying behaviours which point to problems outside of the school environment such as social isolation, bullying, abuse and family problems.
Mentor or tutor?
It can be clearly seen that there is a very real difference between a mentor and a tutor. Mentors are more involved with their mentees over a longer period of time, making the relationship both professional and personal, fulfilling the role of a role-model and friend. A tutor is more of a specialised teacher in a particular subject, often having worked in a specific area of expertise and therefore with an in-depth knowledge of the subject. Whilst ensuring that the scholar or student achieves the required competency level dictated by the school curriculum, he also assists in training the scholar to think through problems and find the solutions through a better understanding of the subject than could be gained in time-constricted school lesson plans.
Perhaps one of the best ways to describe a mentor may be found in this quote from an American politician, John C Crosby (1859 – 1943), who stated that “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”