Life as an Oppidan mentor

I started as a mentor with Oppidan whilst completing law school in London. I needed a job that fitted alongside my studies, so flexibility was crucial, and Oppidan very much fitted the bill. I had actually been babysitting for an agency in London (their only male babysitter!) and, as much as this was a great experience, I soon realised that mentoring for Oppidan was a more time-efficient job which I found ultimately more rewarding. Since finishing law school in June 2017 and with my training contract with a City law firm starting in February 2018, I have begun mentoring more and more for Oppidan over the last 6 months. And I have loved every moment of it! Finding myself on a mentoring job in Florida for a week, sitting on the beach in 30-degree heat whilst London was freezing, actually made me think twice about swapping the impending long hours sat in a dark, gloomy City office for more experiences mentoring on a warm beach!  

So, what’s it like as a mentor for Oppidan? A few words spring to mind straight away: interesting, fun, different and, occasionally, inexplicably amazing.  

The first thing that struck me about Oppidan was that you’re called a mentor, not a tutor. Mention the ‘t’ word and you’ll receive a stern look and correction from anyone at Oppidan. Perhaps cynically I thought this seemed like a trivial marketing ploy, but once you speak to Walter and Henry (the passionate founders of Oppidan) you begin to realise that they’ve found a subtle, yet fundamental difference in education that highlights what can be wrong with one-on-one support for children.

You may ask yourself, what is the difference? Well, it’s a little bit like answering the question, what’s the difference between a manager and a leader? The best analogy I’d use is to imagine a group of 12 people pulling a big stone along a road. A manager sits on top of the stone and tells the group how and what to do. A leader will also tell the group how and what to do, but will do so whilst pulling from the front of the group, showing them how and guiding them towards their objective. In many ways, I feel this is the same with tutors and mentors: tutors teach, mentors teach by leading - a subtle yet incredibly powerful difference to a mentee.

I remember my favourite teachers at school were the ones I looked up to and could relate to – they were mentors, not just tutors. This has a massive effect on the children you mentor that has enormous long-term implications as they progress through their schooling.

Secondly, the team at Oppidan are fantastic. I had known both Walter and Henry before I started mentoring, so maybe I’m a little biased, but the passion they have for Oppidan and the services they provide, as well as education in general, is remarkable. They are both incredibly knowledgeable and two of the most naturally gifted mentors I’ve seen in action. However, the day-to-day point of contact at OE is the wonderful Tilly, who is always available to answer all questions and queries. As a team, from my experience, they are incredibly supportive to their mentors. They explain everything, from first meeting a new mentee, to model lesson plans, to how their charge out rates work.  

One thing that I really like is the fact that Oppidan don’t take advantage of the mentor by adding on large commission to the price they charge the client for your services. They keep a flat rate no matter what your rate is or how many hours you do. This means you can earn a fairer and generally higher rate compared to other agencies, who might have you on a lower rate as they have a higher fee. In my opinion, this is better for both the mentor and the client. They also get to know their mentors really well, asking about their styles of teaching, their personalities and interests, and their strengths and weaknesses. They then repeat a similar process when talking to Oppidan’s clients. This means they can then match a suitable mentor to each mentee, and this immediately makes the mentor’s job easier, and increases the chances of a really successful partnership going forward.

Finally, the opportunities Oppidan offers are incredible, both domestically and abroad. If you’ve got some free time during the school holidays, there are always some amazing jobs to exotic countries all over the world. I have been lucky enough to travel out to Florida with a great family in my time and, although I was carrying out some intensive mentoring, I had time off to explore the area and get the all-important winter tan. During the summer, I was able to work at one of Oppidan’s Summer EduCamps. It was the sort of camp I would have relished as a child; nothing like the ones run by senior schools or big organisations that I used to go to. There’s a focus on a child’s enjoyment and teaching vital life skills that will be beneficial to them as they go on with life, from good manners and proper etiquette, to how to cook and debate, to how to catch a water balloon from 50 metres away – the list is endless. The atmosphere on the minibus back to London after the camps says it all – laughter turns to a quiet murmur, then turns to silence, as everyone, including yours truly, falls off to sleep. The excitement and fun catches up with us all!

To sum up, working as a mentor at Oppidan has been a fantastic experience for me personally. It’s the perfect job for those looking for flexibility and working with children supports core values and principles that are applicable in pursuing other career paths. With the advantage of relative youth, as a mentor, I have been able to offer advice and direction to school children, away from the targets of school work, which I hope will have given them the structure and support they have needed to progress throughout their years at school. 

By Charlie Goodwin