View Full Version : FAHA: Mentor Disciplinary Conduct

Beth Sweet
11-02-2008, 09:21 PM
This FAHA'r is struggling with how to cope with the "problem student." Is this a difference in discipline styles, or is this conduct inappropriate?
On my team we have a couple of kids who are not exactly the quietest. They also tend to annoy the mentors and the students on the team by constantly arguing with each other. For the past year, the team has handled this by mostly ignoring their comments/arguments and only telling them to be quiet when absolutely neccessary. We have also tried to separate them so they don't argue, with mixed results. When we started meeting again this year, the mentor made it very clear that they would not tolerate interrruptions, and that you must raise your hand to speak. Unfortuneately the students that were causing this problem seem to not have changed their behavior in the least.
At meetings the kids get yelled at by the mentor to be quiet, and seem to listen, for a while. Then later on, they'll start up their consistant arguing with each other or will interrupt with an unneccessary comment.
While I would like suggestions about handling these kind of rowdy students, (Maybe they just want attention?) there also has been something else that has been bugging me.
In addition to yelling at the students when they are interrupting or arguing, the mentor has lately taken to "talking back" to the students. The mentor would say things like "A two-year old is more mature than you" (Or something along those lines, I don't want to give a specific example of what the mentor said to the students in question because I am afraid that it would reveal their identity.)
This has been going on for a while, and it has bothered me a lot. This person is supposed to be a mentor, and I thought mentors were supposed to respect their students, and try to help them change for the better. This behavior seems to me like it wouldn't help the students change for the better.
I've been trying to think of reasons this mentor would be doing this, but all the reasons I've come up with (Short temper, thinks this will keep them quiet, has run out of ways to keep them in line, if it's because they are the only full-time mentor this year, or if something is going on outside of robotics) don't fully explain what's going on here. Or maybe they do, and I don't know how to go about making things better, or if I even should try and do something.
I'm really confused right now, and would appreciate any insights, thoughts, or ideas about how to solve this problem without embarrassing anyone or hurting any feelings, or on how to approach the mentor about this behavior and why I think it is wrong.
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11-02-2008, 11:06 PM
From the way it sounds, it seems that the mentor in question has just become frustrated with the situation, which is perfectly natural. I would like to say that this is wrong, but everyone goes over the top from time to time, especially in a stressful situation.

If you really feel this is inappropriate, then find the mentor and talk to them about the whats going on. As a fellow student, it would certianly be appropriate to speak with the students in question and ask them to be quiet during meetings.

11-03-2008, 09:47 AM
I've been thinking about this a bit, and I think I see three problems that need to be addressed. They'll all have to be dealt with individually, but solving one will make it easier to solve the others.

Problem 1: The students are being disruptive with each other.
Solution 1: Not easy! You might start by talking to the students (with the mentor) one at a time. Explain that the team is trying to conduct team business that affects them, and that their conduct is slowing/stopping the process. Also, consider adopting a Code of Conduct for the entire team. This document will outline the standards of conduct that the team expects of its members and the penalties for violations. There are some samples around somewhere--CD-Media or NEMO would probably have some.

Also, talk to the parents of the students. Maybe get them to a meeting or so to see what their kids are doing. Then let the parents deal with it.

Problem 2: The mentor is talking back to the students.
Solution 2: I think you're right about the reason for this. That's still not an excuse. About the only thing you can really do in this situation is to remind the mentor about Gracious Professionalism. You could also solve Problem 1 or Problem 3. Either one will cool the mentor down a bit.

Problem 3: The mentor is the only full-time mentor this year.
Solution 3: Get the mentor some more mentors! Parents don't have to know anything about the robot and neither do teachers. If they want to, great, but just having other parents, mentors and/or teachers in the room, and not necessarily at the same time (i.e., trading off who is there on which nights), will give the mentor support in dealing with problems like the students described.

There is also the "Golden Boot" option, but I don't think that should be applied until everything else has failed.

If I were in the mentor's place, I would probably have asked one or both students to not return after last year. Seeing as it is now the beginning of a year, that isn't really an option at this time, but it certainly would be at the end of the year. Being on the team is a privilege, not a right. If they aren't showing that they deserve the privilege, they just might not get it.

The mentor should be the one to take them off the team; if you are a mentor, you could too. If you're a student, then you need to talk with your mentor about any replies you receive to this thread. Hey, introduce him to CD if he hasn't shown up already. He can get extra help here.

Kims Robot
11-03-2008, 01:56 PM
Anyone who thinks FIRST is just about robots could see that is not the case here. FIRST is a bunch of people that get together, all have different personalities, and many of the students often have other things going on at home or issues with friends.

A few years ago, we had two students who we often looked at like brother and sister because they fought all the time, so it sounds similar to me. It put a lot of stress on the other students, on many of the mentors, and on the team as a whole. In all, its drama that no one wants to deal with.

Ultimately, it wasnt easy for us, and Im not sure that we fully "solved" it, but I went through a series of discussions with each of them separately. Both were going through home issues I wont elaborate on, but a lot of it was acting out for attention. They were both good kids at heart, and both loved the program, and even were mostly friends with eachother, but it was often hard to get them working in the same room. I think we worked through most of it by letting them know that we cared and listening to their problems, letting them voice why they were frustrated with eachother, and empathizing (NOT sympathizing). In the end they both graduated and went off to college, and both are doing well now, Im happy to say, but it was hard to deal with at the time. I think the best you can do is let them know you care, and try and get them to see how they are affecting the team as a whole. A lot of times students dont realize anything outside their own bubbles.

As for the mentor, it is a REALLY rough position to be in to be relied on all the time, to have to be professional all the time, and if this person really is your only mentor, that is a really HUGE responsibility. While everyone is entitled to their "bad" days, it sounds like this is starting to get more frequent. In that case, I would suggest talking to the mentor. If you are a student, this might be a more touchy subject, maybe a parent or another adult could broach the topic. Or you could approach it that you noticed that the two students are really getting out of hand, and you wanted to talk about it... and slowly work into talking about that its really concerning to see that person act that way. My guess is the mentor is just overwhelmed and frustrated, I have been there sooo many times. Its hard to stay professional when you look at the fact that you are volunteering your time for this and these kids are being so disrespectful that its driving you up the wall. Sometimes it seems like kids dont get that they arent entitled to this team... that its because of the hard work of those who started and run it... but then we have to step back and realize that not everyone is going to see everything the same way.

Biggest thing I can think of is just talk to and listen to the three in this issue, and do it separately. In my experience bringing them all together only creates resentment or holding back, or more arguing. Let them all know you care and see if you can find out the root of these problems.

Al Skierkiewicz
11-04-2008, 06:52 AM
I am going to agree with Kim here. This sounds like there is an underlying reason for the mentor response and it needs to be fixed. A team cannot make these pressures go away but it usually helps to make the mentor realize what is taking place. Recent financial pressures, job issues, employer uncertainty and the real threat of loss of job can weigh heavily on adults. The worry of the election and it's implications is also an issue for nearly everyone in this election year. Often release comes in the form of verbal assault on others. The mentor may not even be aware of how this is viewed by others or it's effects.
The students also need some help. It is simply not acceptable to behave in a manner which is less than GP or disrespective of others on the team. There are a few techniques that really work and one of those is to stop talking/doing which turns attention to the students who are being disruptive. When everyone is waiting for them to stop fighting, they will soon tire of being the center of attention. You might also take both students to a quiet place and explain that this behavior puts the team in poor standing with other teams and therefore travel would be in question. Remember that the students are torn between being on the team and the stress of each other's conduct at team meetings. In addition to the obvious effects on the team, it is possible that you might loose both students if this continues. As Kim has pointed out, there is likely another cause behind this behavior.