How Hamish dealt with feeling ‘lost in the crowd’ at school

Written by: Maggie Shui

In this article, English and maths tutor Hamish tells us about feeling like an anonymous student on a factory line, and how having the right mentorship led him to scoring the top mark in New Zealand for Scholarship Economics.

Feeling anonymous in the classroom

As a young teenager, Hamish needed mentors. He needed people around him that appreciated what made him unique. He needed people that cared about his interests, recognised his strengths and could help steer him in the right direction.

However, he didn’t have such people looking out for him at school. Hamish was in a school so big that sometimes students had to sit on the floor because there weren’t enough desks available for everyone. He felt, in his words, “lost in the crowd.”

There were lots of great teachers who could’ve been great mentors for Hamish. In a school that Hamish likens to a “student factory”, however, it just wasn’t possible for teachers to properly get to know their students. The reality was this: teachers would come into class, write some things on a whiteboard, transfer some knowledge to a big class of students that they don’t really know that well, and go home. It was a dynamic that Hamish can only describe as “transactional.”

“Sometimes, they would have to check your face against the ID photo in the school roll in order to know your name,” says Hamish. When young Hamish was working at a bookstore, his Spanish teacher from a previous year told him that he looked familiar. “I was like, ‘yeah, you taught me Spanish for a year.”

Hamish wanted to be able to develop a rapport with his teachers, to be able to speak to them like a peer and get their advice outside of class. That was the kind of learning environment he could flourish in. That was the type of mentorship he craved. But it’s hard for that to happen when your teachers barely know your name.

Finding the mentorship he needed

Before you get too heartbroken for young Hamish, however, you’ll be glad to hear that he had enough self-awareness and initiative as a teen to take some action. His learning environment wasn’t working for him, so he switched it by moving to a smaller high school in Year 11.

The new school Hamish chose for himself was smaller and felt like a community. For the first time, Hamish knew every student in his year. “It was a total contrast. The teachers all knew you by name, and could really tailor to your needs.” Because they knew Hamish and his strengths and weaknesses, they were able to encourage him towards opportunities that would best help him grow.

There was one teacher in particular who made a big impact in Hamish’s life. Hamish says, “This teacher basically mentored me from Year 11 to Year 13.” He was Mr Healy, Hamish’s economics teacher, and Hamish credits this teacher with recognising his strengths, and encouraging him to nurture those strengths.

“He encouraged me to challenge myself. He was the one who suggested I skip Level 1 Economics, and go straight into Level 2 in Year 11 because he saw my potential.” The next year, Hamish took Scholarship Economics and attained an Outstanding Scholarship. While some students might dust off their hands and call it a day after this impressive result, Hamish decided to give Scholarship Economics another go in his final year. This time, he attained Top Scholar - that is, he was the top student in New Zealand for that subject. (Fun fact: a student in Mr Healy’s class in the following year gained Top Scholar as well.)

More importantly than his high school grades, Mr Healy shaped Hamish’s critical thinking, which Hamish will take with him throughout the rest of his life. “The impact he had on me was pretty huge. He totally changed the way I thought about the world. Instead of just soaking up and regurgitating info that people feed you, he taught me to critique and question things.”

The difference a mentor can make

“Sometimes you look back to a particular point in time, and think about the chain of events that led you from that point to where you are now,” says Hamish. “That’s definitely the case with Mr Healy. Without him, I’d be living a totally different life. He inspired in me a passion for economics and for learning in general.”

By being surrounded by knowledgeable people who cared about his growth, Hamish was able to nurture his unique talents, and develop them to the best of his ability. For Hamish, a key person who supported his growth was his economics teacher, Mr Healy. For you, that mentor figure could be one of your school teachers, a sports coach, a youth group leader or, of course, your tutor.

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