Hiring a Teacher Mentor

Salutations, I was wondering if any of you had any resources / ideas about how to go about hiring a mentor for build season? My team would like to take a major step and we believe that this is the best way to go. If you have any experience in this please put down your thoughts! We are just starting this and would love more input.

Thanks, Annemarie and the Firebirds

I have seen mentors paid in two ways. (1) As a coach for the team, just like a sports team coach the are paid with school money and are a school employee. (2) As a mentor using grant money, part of the grant request specifies an amount of money to be paid as coach/mentor compensation.

A teacher/mentor drawing a stipend from the school district is a good idea. But the stipend is often small compared to a football coach/teacher. If you have money in your budget I would get more money to the teacher/mentors.

It is hard to reconcile hiring a seasoned professional engineer to be a mentor. I’m a volunteer but if I charged by the hour my time would cost the team $50k+. Consider recruiting multiple volunteer engineer/mentors along with a bonus (in addition to the stipend) for the teacher/mentors.

Hiring a professional mentor would be challenging; unless it is a full-time job for most or all of the year, most professionals could not justify taking it. Exceptions are the retired or the unemployed.

If the school doesn’t have the talent you prefer, the next logical approach is to contact your sponsors; tell them the need you have and the budget you can afford, they might be able to assign one of their professionals to mentor.

Other schools, both Secondary and Post-secondary, are good sources of talent, and they often have schedules that might allow an employee to mentor the team. Contact the administration of everything within 20 miles and see if they’ll allow you to try to recruit someone.

Of course, before you even start: Write up a job description. The mentor will need to know your expectations, and you’ll need some objective requirements that someone needs to meet to even be considered, and then later for their ‘performance review’. Be flexible here: Do they really need an engineering doctorate, or just equivalent experience? (They DO need to be able to pass a background check though…)

Hi Annemarie,

If you can get a copy of the MSJA teachers contract, there is probably a section that lists set stipends for certain activities; at least there is for the Archdiocese. (These include things like student council moderator, AV coordinator, department head, etc. “Robotics” wasn’t named in our contract, so I worked with my school president to figure out the right place for it, given the contract wording.)

I’d bet that most teacher/mentors involved with FIRST do it for the love of the program, but dangling a couple hundred dollars as an incentive couldn’t hurt. Have a few of your most involved girls make an impassioned plea - maybe at a faculty meeting. Tell them how influential the Firebirds have been in recent MSJA history and how an adult mentor in the school building is an important missing piece that could re-invigorate the program.

I am an engineer who became a teacher and got sucked into the FIRST vortex in 1998.

At Rutgers University playing Ladder Logic, I started crying. I was taken aback in pleasant surprise to stumble upon four of my biggest passions (Engineering, Art, Education & Sports) in one venue.
We do it for love.

I requested and we currently receive stipends from our town for: my work with FRC; and a colleagues for theirs with FTC. It is very modest for the time that we spend on this program.
We asked for it so that our Board of Education could signal their support for the program.
They are also paying for our local transportation and subsidizing our build space (an empty elementary school).

My point here is that if you want to engage a mentor/teacher from your school:

  1. Take them (be persistent and make it easy for them to accept an invitation) to a couple of off-season events.
    Let them touch the vortex.
  2. Approach the mucky-mucks (Diocese, Board of Education, District, etc…) and have the students do a presentation before the school year ends. Bring the Robot and a pretty big ball. Show what you Robot can do. (You had a good performance this year and won a Chairman’s award, so you know how to present) Only students should speak unless a mentor is specifically addressed.

Rinse, Repeat.

This is a must. Each team has different way of operating and that requires different types of mentors. You also should have people come by and watch the team work a few times. If the style of mentoring does not match your needs then it is better to part as friends then have a rough time of it.

You absolutely need a reasonable, coherent job description if you are trying to recruit someone. If you are talking about paying a stipend to a teacher, you need to know the rules for that. Contacting the school HR department is a good first step.

One thing to consider for any paid mentor (teacher or not) is insurance. Currently my co-leader and I split a modest stipend. The few hundred bucks is nice but what it really does for me is to ensure that I am insured. FRC has the potential for serious accidents. A paid adviser is being put into a position with a lot of potential liability. Even more so for a teacher, because in addition to being sued a teacher could lose his or her job if an accident happens. I love doing FIRST but without knowing that I was covered by the school insurance policy I don’t think I would do it. At least not at my school. Even if the mentor is not a teacher, you are going to want to consider covering them.

This is a great point. I am an engineering professional, not a teacher. I started with FIRST when my eldest daughter was recruited by her school’s team. The tipping point was when I took her to an off-season event (Ramp Riot 2005) and it was absolutely the coolest, most amazing thing I had ever seen. I had never imagined that I could walk into a school gymnasium at 8:00am on a Saturday morning and find about a thousand high school students absolutely pumped over science and technology!

My children are all well past FIRST. My youngest daughter graduates from University at the end of this month (Chemical Engineering). I’m still here and have never regretted taking the plunge.