Cast your mind back to your teenage years and think about someone outside of your family who was either a formal or informal mentor to you, maybe a coach, certainly someone who positively influenced your life? How and why did this person have such an impact on your life? What skills did this person help you to develop and add to your lifelong bag of skills to make a positive difference in the world?
Many of my teachers and coaches made a great impact on my life at different seasons of my journey through adolescence. Dealing with recovery from Cancer, being shy and self-conscious, I had many personal challenges to overcome and often my negative self-talk or feelings of self-pity became obstacles to my personal development – until Anthony Mallett entered my life.The one person who probably had the most impact on my teenage life was my Headmaster, Anthony Mallett, who had played Cricket for England (MCC) and was also active in numerous other sports, especially Squash, by the time I interacted with him. He was a superb actor, a keen gardener and an enthusiastic Bridge player with a wicked sense of humour – a man of many talents! After teaching in England, he married and moved with his wife to Peterhouse in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), taking up a teaching position at this Independent School that had recently opened. There he spent many years helping to develop the strong foundations of a school that is thriving today, before he moved to Cape Town in South Africa and became Headmaster of my old school, a position he held for about 19 years before retiring. He led the school with courage, vision and commitment through the very difficult political and economic times of the apartheid era.
My first teaching job, on Anthony’s recommendation, as I had no interview, was at Peterhouse. I spent two years there and then returned to my old school in Cape Town for two years, as I was not prepared to join the Rhodesian Armed Services which was compulsory once one had been in the country for a certain period of time.
Anthony was still the Headmaster when I returned to teach at my old school and it was an interesting experience working under him as an employee, yet also as a teaching colleague, observing his leadership style from a different perspective, even acting alongside him in a Staff play!
On Anthony’s suggestion that I gain as much experience as I could before I was 30, which included teaching overseas, I was offered a job at a school in Surrey (England). However, as South Africa was in the worst years of apartheid, I could not obtain a work visa and I found myself unemployed for a couple of weeks!
Fortunately, a former colleague at Peterhouse heard that I was looking for a position and I was contacted by the Headmaster and asked if I would like to return. The country was transitioning through the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia phase on its way to becoming Zimbabwe. I jumped at the opportunity and enjoyed three more wonderful years of my teaching career at Peterhouse, during which time I met my wife and we got married.
What has this to do with Anthony Mallett and his impact on my life?
Well, he taught me many things about myself and how to lead a fulfilling life, firstly as my Cricket Coach when I was about 15, as my Latin teacher at the same time – he NEVER accepted a second-rate effort – and later when I had the privilege of being appointed School Captain.
He not only role-modelled the life I should strive to live, but also taught me:
- the importance of being true to myself and standing up for what I believed to be right or worth standing up for no matter the cost. I remember, when I was teaching under his leadership, I reminded him of this when he expelled a student who was caught flushing marijuana down the toilet in a boarding house, not having smoked it nor given it to anyone else – a costly error made by a fine young man I was coaching sport at the time. While I understood Anthony’s reasoning and so on, I didn’t agree – and still don’t agree – with the way the matter was handled. Anthony and I had an open and honest discussion about the matter, another important learning curve for me in my teaching career.
- NEVER to quit, no matter how tough the situation might be – Anthony had identified courage as one of my resilient qualities and he nurtured this in a variety of ways in the years ahead.
- to give whatever I participated in my best shot – when I run my ‘old man’s jog’ in the mornings and start feeling the strain, my mind goes back to school days, running the 1500 metre final at the school Athletics day, taking the final bend for the finish line, knowing that Anthony was sitting on the tiered seating at the finishing post, pipe in mouth (his trademark) growling words of encouragement. He believed in me! As I mentioned above, he was a brilliant Squash player. I played him a couple of times and he toyed with me, loved every moment of this, cheeky smile always present, yet he was also quietly coaching me to keep on keeping on – run and run, so I could walk off the court knowing that I had given my best effort.
- NEVER to be afraid to move out of my comfort zone to discover the real me – I have so many examples of this I could share.
- To treat all people, no matter the colour of their skin or their faith group, with respect. I was involved in a few anti-apartheid activities while at school, chased idealistic dreams to create a better future for our country and Anthony gave his tacit support with a customary smile and his other trademark, a wink. This support would result in me undertaking more bridge-building activities later in my teaching career to bring young people of all races together for symposia as preparation for the inevitable end of the apartheid days.
- the importance of laughing at myself and retaining a good sense of humour.
- the importance of teamwork and understanding the loneliness that came with the role of being a leader, though seeking someone I trusted to offload frustrations and the highs and lows of such experiences. I still have some of the letters we exchanged when I was School Captain.
There was so much more ….
Most important, though, he was a significant role model in my life and one of my greatest Cheerleaders for many years while I was at school and then when I embarked on my teaching career. When I was running life skills workshops bringing young people together, I wrote a short booklet which was given to each student, On the Wings of an Eagle, and Anthony kindly went through it for me and added his comments and thoughts before it was published.
When I became a Headmaster in Cape Town, he occasionally popped in and had a chat when he was walking in the area, as he lived about five to ten minutes from the school at the time. I have a vivid memory of him sitting on the edge of my desk sharing thoughts and ideas one cold wintry evening when I was working late. Sadly, he died of cancer after a lengthy struggle with the illness and I lost a wonderful mentor and friend.
The Spirit of Mentoring involves passing on the legacy. Whether I was teaching in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, New Zealand or Australia, the words and examples of Anthony Mallett have remained a powerful inspiration to me.
The skills that Anthony, and others, have taught me over the years have created my technicolour bag, like the one in this blog, that I’ll carry with me throughout my life. As I interact with young people or continue to develop resources for young people, I’ll continue to add these experiences to the bag, as it still has heaps of room. Much of what I learnt and then developed into a successful coaching or mentoring formula which I used with teenagers over the years was finally recorded in a book: Letter 2 a Teen – Becoming the best I can be.
My reminisces have been many since I officially retired last year. I am entering the twilight years of my life, during which time I continue to promote the Spirit of Mentoring of teenagers and am out of my comfort zone (thank you, Anthony!) quite a bit at the moment as I explore possibilities.
Do you have a mentoring story to share?
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.