-first as you can see from the name this is a throwaway account.-
I’ve been mentoring a team for about 3 years. We have 5 mentors on our team 3 being inactive for the last year as they moved abroad. I’m the only technical mentor and the other mentor is a PR mentor. We have 60 students. Nearly half is on PR side rest being on robotics side. After the last competition we attended PR side is in what I can call an"offline mode". No one literally move their finger to do anything. PR captain and mentor is trying to encourage them but nope everytime they try they fail to do so. For the robotics side some of them are eager to learn and do things but again nearly every job that robotics captain should handle is left to me. When the team first selected the captains for this year I was sure that they were the right people(they had the best knowledge , technical abilities and also strong grasp of PR subjects). But as time passes by I realize I was wrong they are not as suitable as leaders as I thought. They don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. When I try to tell something or correct their wrongdoing they just don’t take it seriously. PR mentor has another daily job and can’t help as much as though he tries his best. With all robotics, general management, and some PR work left to me I can’t take it anymore. It is damaging my mental health and wellbeing. One side of me want to quit but other side doesn’t want as I spent hours as a member,captain and mentor over the last 5 years. I really want to hear thoughts of other mentors.
Thank you for reading. All help is much appreciated.
That is a huge divide in student/mentor ratio from what I would consider “the optimal window of 5:1”. In absolute terms this a large team.
I have no idea on why the team is so large for the available mentor resources (even those mentor resources from years ago). My gut says the team is simply too big, which can be very tough to navigate. Some large teams have excellent student lead logistics, fundraising, manufacturing, etc. others it is a social club. It is up to you to decide where you fall on that spectrum.
Shrinking reducing student numbers to get closer to that ratio may substantially help your work load (and mental health) . But this may be a headache for others reasons, no one wants to get cut from a team. Tread carefully, don’t let this “solution” be more of a mental burden.
School forces us to accept everyone wanting to join the team. Most of the parents are the “Do you know who am I” type so school management doesn’t want to bother with parents. It was not like that when the team was first founded.
If it were me with these constraints I would write a letter to the school board, CC the extracurricular advisor or principal, and say something along the lines of
- this is unsustainable
- this is impacting my mental health and there is no reason to believe it is not also impacting others
- I need more resources or the burden reduced (smaller team, defined in policy)
- classrooms are not expected to function with this ratio, for that matter neither are sports teams.
In the end, you need to save yourself if the situation is causing too much stress. You are no good to yourself or anyone else in a straight jacket.
I know I would not do particularly well in a “do you know who I am” environment.
Frankly, if I were done with the whole thing, I would just respond to the “do you know who I am?” With
“First and foremost a parent, beyond that no and it doesn’t seem necessary for me to know the details of your personal life. If you would like to volunteer as a mentor to apply your personal experience we can have that conversation”
I wrote my resignation letter but I guess it will wait in my files for sometime. I will be writing a letter explaining the problem and possible solutions and hope they take it seriously.
That seems intelligent.
Lay out the facts of the situation, be sure to have your personal involvement in the program sorted out before the season starts (whatever deadlines are applicable to you).
It is possible you are calm on the surface and that gives others the impression you have a huge workload under control even though you are paddling like mad underneath. Communication is key and you need to give the school time to implement a solution if the above is news to them (even though they should know better given the size of classrooms, sports teams, etc). I would include a reasonable deadline^ for them to respond to you by or expect your resignation (just so they know the seriousness of the situation).
^ look up the next meeting of the school board (or similar, multiple people CC’ed) Make sure you get on the agenda in some manner. You obviously have to decide what the best call is here for your situation and how to word things.)
It might help your cause to enlist the support of others to cosign letter, meet in person, make the calls, etc. The other mentor is sympathetic as may be a few well engaged parents and sponsors. Maybe the students can step up to help you, too.
And include a note that if this is not addressed by a certain time, then there will be a student:mentor ratio of 60:1, and you’re not sure how long that will last.
Actually, that might be the best tool: the current ratio of students to mentors. If the school has any sort of standard requirement for said ratio, and they’re over by a significant margin, that’s problematic if it gets out. Highly problematic… and a message to the “do you know who i am” parents with “i apologize, there is no way I know who you are because there are too many students for me to even know who they are” with the ratio and requirements gets the parents on YOUR side, hopefully.
We’ve struggled with similar issues - last year we had 168 students, 7 teams, and 3 mentors. The only reason we have been able to sustain such a large team with so few mentors is because our students step up in a major way, serving as (team) leaders, advocates, and (subteam / project) leads.
This year, we are cutting down our maximum team size to around 100 (and reformatting from 1 FRC + 6 FTC teams to 2 FRC teams) - meaning we’re cutting current team members, as well as having to pick 20 of roughly 100 prospective team members to get spots on the team. This was a hard decision, but our school’s administration acknowledges that we are a team, not a club. The football team is allowed to hold tryouts and make cuts, so we’re afforded the same opportunities.
Many administrators and school districts don’t really understand the scope of what we’re doing. Some are open to learning more, and others aren’t. Trying to open a dialogue with them and explaining the need for some combination of increased resources (more mentors), or decreased burden (decreased student count) is probably the best first step to take towards balancing out your team.
With a 1:55 mentor to student ratio, we struggled hard to know all of their names, let alone their parents.
EDIT: I entirely missed the timeline at the end of your post - mrnoble addresses this and I 100% agree. As a college mentor, you aren’t equipped to deal with this (neither was/am I). Something needs to change.
In your communications prior to any “I QUIT” moment you should add that having this lopsided a student/mentor ratio poses risks to the school. Not enough adult eyes on power tools to mention just the most obvious thing.
When a parent asks “Do you know who I am?” the answer should be: “If you have any relevant skills…you are our newest Mentor recruit”.
Ditch 2/3 of the media/business/pr contingent. Some can be trained in other areas. Those who don’t want to do this…good bye.
OP, based on the time line you provided (five years including as a student, a captain, and a mentor) the oldest you could possibly be is four years out of high school, assuming you were the team captain in your senior year, and your senior year was your first year as a team member. This is unlikely; much more likely you are a recent high school graduate. The role you are attempting to take in is, to be very frank with you, vastly beyond what you should be doing. I would be uncomfortable with any adult taking on sixty students with so little help, and I am especially alarmed that it would be asked of anyone not themselves yet out of college. If the team cannot exist without your help as a “mentor” then the team needs to die. This is a really unhealthy and very unsafe situation! And really, the existence of such situations is damning for the FIRST model, in which teams basically get to decide for themselves what is safe and healthy. Please, turn in your resignation as soon as possible, and let this go.
mrnoble has some wise words there. I thought your post “read” a bit young but had not done the math. Being - probably - three times your age and at a near “I quit” moment two years ago I can tell you it is time for changes. Spell these out. Set a time line for them to happen. If they don’t…then move on. I’ve had a couple of times in my professional life when it was necessary to do so and do NOT regret either of them. I’d say you need to cap the team at 35 or 40 and have a minimum of 8 mentors including yourself. One issue with being - we presume - young is that the Powers that Be might not take you seriously. Can you get the other mentor on board with this and present a unified front? (btw, in our case the changes did happen and the outcome was a very pleasant season).
It’s real easy to hammer the safety aspect. Having 30 kids in the shop with one adult is terrifying. Without having eyes on the students using the tools, someone is going to end up losing a finger or drilling through a hand. Personally, we always get the students to work in pairs, or occasionally 3, so that the older students and teach the younger as they go, and no one gets relegated to “unimportant work” just because they don’t have experience. Having more than 3 in a group ends up being a worse experience for everyone, as you end up with half the group just standing there watching the others work. It’s a delicate balancing act.
Having 2 groups per mentor is almost too much, but is doable - you end up bouncing between them so much that your head is spinning by the end of the night, but you can at least manage to keep an eye on all the power tool usage and keep everyone safe. More than that really isn’t safe, and stuff will happen when your back is turned. The last thing you want is to have an inexperienced student operating a machine unsupervised.
The school needs to know that you need more support in order to run a team. This is for their benefit as much as it is for yours - trust me, those “do you know who I am” parents will be the first to sue if a kid loses a finger - and that’s going to hit both you and the school. That’s the other side of looking at this, beyond the impact to your own mental health, which should also be prioritized. Fortunately, the solution to both of these is the same - get more support or leave.
This is something I run into yearly so I definitely get where you are coming from. Depending on how your district functions, where they are located (us, non-us, even different states will vary wildly), but many schools require teachers to participate in after school clubs in some way, shape or form. Specifically in Michigan CTE education teachers have to run a CTSO (Career Tech Student Organization) that is in relation to their subjects.
If there are teachers in the school that don’t already have a club you could look at them because A. they probably have to do some sort of club and B. they could be involved in small ways that don’t require them to become mentors that attend every meeting. There so much work with running the teams that doesn’t have to take place during meeting times. Also having someone in the school during daytime hours as the mouth piece and collection point for field trip paperwork, filling out grants, etc is super helpful.
From what I gathered you are probably the person handling this stuff on top of all of the technical skills as the other mentor is PR. That can be doubly exhausting if you don’t like being the paperwork person and like teaching and doing the fun stuff. Yes the other stuff needs doing but maybe you can get parents and other people in the school to help take over those other tasks for you to lighten your work load. This doesn’t help supervision of 60 students at once during meetings, but it does give you much less to worry about. This also kills the excuse of “I have X and can’t be at meetings” because now you can say “Oh, well you can do this whenever you have some free time in your busy schedule as it’s not requiring a specific time and place commitment”.
Edit: one other method we have tried in the past with mixed results is requiring some sort of buy-in from the parents. Be it providing meals and car rides to and from comp, volunteering at X number of meetings, etc. Every student has to have X number of hours of parental involvement credits to go to the competition. We had to make exceptions for a few cases but by presenting it that way we did get an increase in help. Even if semi-begrudingly. Because it was put to them like this “We can’t run the team without help, the coaches can’t pay for meals out of pocket any more. We can’t be the only bussing service and we can’t watch the students alone at night when we travel. We are here for the benefit of your kids and we don’t get paid to be here. We can close the team or we can get help from you the parents. Choose wisely.”
If the ratio isn’t changed it’s also potentially an issue with YPP if there’s ever a scenario where only one mentor can be at a meeting and you are stuck there waiting one on one with a student who’s parent is late for pickup. You always need two adults and if you only have two on the roster you cant guarantee you’ll be following the rules in an odd situation. Not meaning there would be any issue, but you should never have to be put in a situation like that because of a lack of other adults. Emergencies happen and you could be forced into that situation in a moments notice without backup. So CYA and maybe make that part of your letter as well.
I respect that this is a concern, and it’s definitely something that this young person should consider if they haven’t. It’s not uncommon for people to assume that nothing bad will ever happen and then not worry about it, which will lead to disaster. I am personally not very motivated by this, as it too often leads to less-than-forthcoming lawyerisms from orgs that are more concerned about getting sued than they are about the actual well-being of students.
I’d argue that one technical mentor for 60 students is already an issue with youth protection, even if that one mentor is mature. It’s inevitable that poor training, injuries, and bad behavior like bullying (or worse) will happen while the mentor is oblivious or just out of the room. This team should be shut down and only restarted when and if it meets a minimum standard of safety.
There are things in life that you have control over and there are things that are beyond your control/influence.
It is highly unlikely that you are able to have much of a positive impact on the students on your current team due to the excessively high ratio of students to mentors and the poor attitudes of the students. It is unlikely that you will be able to change the (bad) attitudes of the parents. It sounds like they want “daycare with robots.” If no one associated with the team is willing to do anything, the team does not need your help. Please be clear that this is not your fault.
It may be better for you to pull back until you finish college, then find a team that WANTS your help. You will be able to have much more impact and you will be much happier with the situation.
I have known other mentors who were in bad situations who were much happier when they moved on to another team. I have left several teams where either the commuting was taking too much of my time, the students weren’t willing to do anything and/or other dominant mentors were doing things with the team I could not agree with. I spent a lot of time evaluating teams before finding one that is a good match for me and both the team and I are very happy with the situation. I hope you can find a happy situation too.
So my honest opinions… Reiterating what others have said …
Just walk away.
You are in no way personally responsible for the situation. The best you can do is write down what you know, and let the powers that be sort it out.
The ratios of 50:1 or more are, at first glance, absurd to me. My gut instinct is to ask “why even bother having mentors at that point, all your time is just managing TIMS and the team email list”. I’m sure one person has made it work out… But I can’t imagine a situation where that’s the optimal solution for the long run.
Yes, it’s time to quit. If the concept of quit troubles you, consider it as redirecting your discretionary time. There are so many worthy and rewarding things you can become involved in and that need your help. Your team has reached the point of no return and it’s not your fault. Find a new thing, start a new journey, and help a new set of people.