Cardinal John Henry Newman Photo/Wikimedia Commons []

Educator should mentor as well as teach

  • March 20, 2016

TORONTO - Today’s educators need to reach back to the 19th century and adopt the mentoring mentality of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman, says Cardinal Thomas Collins.

“He saw a teacher, a tutor, as a mentor not as simply someone who fills students heads with knowledge,” said Collins, archbishop of Toronto and member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. “He wanted to be a mentor and a friend, someone who served the people there by helping them become better people.”

Along with supporting his students academically, Newman, who taught at Oxford University and helped found the Catholic University of Ireland (now known as University College, Dublin), sought to develop them spiritually through mentoring.

“Holy wisdom is what he taught; love for the whole person,” said Collins. “He saw each one as a person with a soul and heart and so he had a profound influence on these university students.”

And it is that sense of love for the student which Collins said the teachers of today should seek to embody, “to treat the students not as a what but a who.”

What makes mentoring so important is that while information can easily be forgotten, the influence one has tends to last a life time.

“Influence lasts. Influence is profound,” said Collins. “(Be) someone who cared for them, cared for them beyond just getting them through their exams but cared for them as people.”

Collins gave this advice during the most recent Faith and Reason Lecture, Cardinal Newman as Mentor, held on March 10 at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel at the Newman Centre on the University of Toronto campus.

Among the 100 people in attendance was Arianna Andreangeli, a visiting law professor at the University of Toronto and lecturer in competition law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She agreed that teachers today need to re-humanize their view of those they educate.

“We should look at students as the human beings that they are,” said Andreangeli. “As the archbishop said very well, they are not vessels to fill, they have their own ideas.”

But the life of an academic today is much different than in the 19th century when Newman taught.

“Today as academics we live in a world which is very different from when Newman was actually a professor,” she said. “We have pressures that go from being concerned with time to having to prepare students for the world and work, meeting academic requirements and the life. With all of these pressures it is always a question of how do you mentor to students in the sense of developing that full person.”

Not only are there constraints on educators at the institutions at where they teach, there are also serious concerns about becoming too friendly with students, noted Collins.

“You have to watch because it can happen unnoticed,” he said. “You have to be really attentive to that because if you slip into what is not a proper relationship, that is not spiritually healthy but it could also be illegal.”

To avoid this potential pitfall Collins suggests educators spend time studying boundary violations to ensure they remain a mentor to their students and not a full-fledged friend.

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