I feel that I am as qualified as anyone to discuss this, having been a peer for 20+ years. My wife wrote a play called "Peermalion", which discusses, in its way, some of what all this is about. At one point, a "newbie", talking to someone who had been in the SCA for awhile, mentions "Of course, I don't really know what a peer does." and she responds with "That makes two of us!". While it made the audience laugh, there's a real grain of truth there.
What is it that a peer does?
As a Laurel, encouragement can also come from judging competitions -- if you do this, be sure to note areas that are good about someone's work -- do concentrate on the areas that need work, but make your comments positive! Point out where they did well, point out where they could use work, but do so in a way that doesn't discourage them!
As a Pelican, complimenting the autocrat of the event ... As a member of the Chivalry, compliment that new fighter when he gets in a good blow on you (either at practice or in the tourney). Help them out! Show them the ropes. Again, a good word from a peer is an ego-boost to nearly everyone ...
And frankly, any peer who sees someone who is deserving of a good word should go out of their way to do so. If you are not a member of the Chivalry, there is nothing wrong with telling a fighter that you thought that was a really good fight, and so on.
In addition, don't forget encouraging people in all the areas that are expected of a peer ... chivalry, courtesy, and so on.
Many peers take on formal students (squires, apprentices, whatever). Some peers don't. Is this good or bad?
I don't feel it's good or bad. I feel that all peers should pass their skills on to others in some fashion. While all three peerages require that the peer teach, the requirement is pretty sketchy (Corpora does not give a solid definition). While I feel it is the responsibility of all peers to pass on their skills and knowledge, I don't feel it's bad if a peer doesn't take on a formal student ...
I do feel that a peer who takes their responsibilities seriously can help a student if they take one. Example: When my wife and I were approached by our two apprentices (we share them, as it were), we did so under some conditions. The first was that they understand that becoming our apprentices did not guarantee that they would become Laurels. (The wording we used was something about "being an apprentice is not a fast track to the Laurel".) The second was that we would teach them whatever we could, and maybe even learn something from them. These were (and still are) the only conditions involved. We've never regretted it.
So, what can we, as peers, teach our students? Well, the obvious is the skills we were made a peer for. A Knight or Master at Arms can teach a squire all about fighting, armor, and so on. A Laurel can teach an apprentice their skill(s), and a Pelican can teach a protege (or whatever term you want to use) how to work within the SCA structure to do whatever job(s) (autocratting, etc.) the student is interested in.
However, I honestly feel that if this is all that we teach our students, we are doing them (as well as the Kingdom and the SCA at large) a great disservice. The SCA is what it is because the organization is greater than the sum of its parts. What I mean is that the Knights, by themselves, with no understanding of history (SCA and mundane), fealty, honor and chivalry, are just a bunch of jocks who are good at hitting each other with sticks and SCA combat becomes just another sport ("The day SCA combat becomes a part of the Olympics, I quit!" -- a Knight of the West). The same for the Laurels -- a Laurel who doesn't understand all of the above is just a really good artisan who could just as easily practice those skills in any other organization. And a Pelican who doesn't understand all of this probably ought to get their head examined.
We are doing any students we take on a great disservice if we don't teach them about the SCA, about the middle ages, about honor, courtesy and chivalry -- about all those things that make the SCA what it is, and the place we choose to spend so much of our time and efforts ...
I can honestly state that my apprentices and I are friends first, and they are students second (which I find to be very important). We have spent hours and hours talking about all of the items listed above, and much more. We (my wife and I) feel that if (when) they become peers (of whatever flavor) some day, they will have a good understanding of what it is to be a peer. If we have accomplished that, we have done something right.
Too many new peers have no idea what they've gotten themselves into. I honestly feel that some of the peers (the ones who give the rest of the peerage a bad name) aren't bad people -- they're just trying to make up for the fact that they don't know what a peer is supposed to do or be. They're making a mess of it, but ... no one told them!
Should all peers take it on themselves to take apprentices, proteges and/or squires? No. They should only do this if their reason for doing it is that they are willing to spend the time to teach that student -- not just the skills that they were recognized for, but how to be a peer. Even if that student never becomes a peer, with luck, they will have become a better person for it. If you're collecting students, then re-think things a bit ... you're on the wrong ego-trip.
Does it make someone a "bad peer" if they don't take on a student? Not at all. There are often reasons to not do so. Mundane jobs (if you're in the military, it's hard to take on serious students ... Uncle Sam tends to want more of your time than you have), family, you're not ready for the obligations, whatever. It was years after I left Oertha (and left a couple of students behind that I had to release from apprenticeship) before I took on the two apprentices I have now. Did that make me a bad peer? I hope not ...
Does it make someone a "bad peer" if you don't do any teaching? That's another story ... There are many ways to teach. Some of it is by example. Some of it can be done in formal classrooms, visiting local groups, participating in your own local group ... if a peer dooesn't teach at all, in some fashion, then I think they need to step back and look at what they're doing ...
On a side note ...
Students and Tokens
Should apprentices (students) have some special token to denote that they are a student of a peer? I don't think so. I know many squires have red belts, often showing the arms of the knight they are squired to (or not), and in some Kingdoms there are belts of other colors for apprentices/proteges. Is it necessary? No.
I know of a knight who refuses to give a red belt to his squires (and there are some who turned down being his squire because of that). The problem is, "squire", "apprentice", and "protege" are not titles, they have no rank, even if some folk treat them that way. Tokens usually belong to rank -- the white belt for Knights, and so on ... giving a token to a squire like a red belt is giving some sort of official "status" that the squire doesn't really have (and some folk take the idea that it's a title even further, to signing things as "squire <name>" -- it's not a title!!).
I don't need to "dog-tag" my students. If there is a formal relationship (such as my apprentices), and my apprentices really wanted to show an association, I'm sure a period form (such as use of a personal badge) could be arranged. However, I would much rather that my apprentices are recognized, not because of their relationship to me, but for their own works. (And the apprentices I currently have at the time of this writing agree, last time we talked about this topic ...)
(Minor note: my apprentices "grew up" and were named Laurels a few years ago, and one of them has taken an apprentice of his own ... they chose, after talking, to do a token that she (the apprentice) wears on her belt with his badge on it. She is also considering making a green belt ... that's between her and the person she's laureled to ... I can't and won't condem the practice, it's different from the arrangement that my apprentices and I had, but different people, different needs.)
I got a response on the topic of belts in email on April 2, 2004 from Sir Andras Salamandra, who notes:
"When I give out a squire's belt (or an apprentice's, as the case may be), I tell everyone present that it is not a badge of rank, it is a symbol of the standards by which this person wishes to be judged, and an invitation to judge them by those standards.
This makes it a burden, not an award." -- Sir Andras Salamandra
I certainly don't think that my way is the way, so ... I thought I'd present this point of view for your consideration.
Why should a peer bother to sit in these long meetings? Duty -- it is a peer's right and responsibility to advise the Crown. If you, as a peer, do not attend your respective peerage meetings, you have no right to complain about any business done in those meetings. (Too many peers complain about a candidate being made, or some other piece of business, but do not attend the meetings themselves ... to these, I say "Quitcherbitchin!")
What really goes on in those (seemingly) interminable meetings the peers sit in on?
Basically, in the two councils I am a member of (and I assume things are similar for the other), there are two areas for discussion -- 'candidates' and 'issues'.
In the case of both sets of discussions, I feel that the purpose for sitting in these meetings is to ensure that the peerage grows in the "proper" way (now of course, each peer has a different view of what is "the proper way", which is often why the meetings take awhile ...)., and to advise the Crown (as is my right and responsibility as a peer).
In the case of 'issues', we usually discuss issues that are of concern to the Kingdom, the Orders of Peerage as a whole, or to the individual Order of Peerage. In all of these, unless told otherwise, there is nothing secret about these discussions. Indeed, my wife and I usually discuss any "issues" with our apprentices, unless the issues are ones that should be kept quiet for some reason.
In the case of 'candidates' discussions, however, we have a different situation. The discussion of candidates should always be kept privy to the council. The big reason is concern for the feelings of the candidates themselves. In some cases, the feelings of the candidate may never get hurt -- the candidate may be a wonderful person, with great skills, and enough self-confidence that having someone criticize their work doesn't bother them -- and they may fly right through the council (it happens). But in the case of someone where there may be some difficulties (or "personality problems"), the last thing anyone wants to have happen is to let these discussions get outside the council -- the candidate can be and often is (it's happened) hurt by some well-meaning person. (I will, for the time being, assume the best here, and that the person who talks to the candidate is well-meaning ...)
I know of one person who was so hurt by some of what happened that not only did they tell the council where to go, they quit the SCA ... all because some well-meaning soul tried to talk to them about "the council said" or "so-and-so at the 'x' peerage meeting said ...".
Another case in point was a candidate who had been discussed, and someone mis-understood part of a discussion, and told the candidate that they were going to be made a member of the Order ... the candidate went to the event they expected it to happen at, and it didn't happen. They went to another event, and it didn't happen. This went on for several events, until the candidate talked to someone (the Crown or another member of the Order of peerage in question) and found out that there was a mistake and the order wasn't planning on asking them to join. They were seriously put-out and hurt!
We should never take the issue of the privacy of candidate discussions lightly! A candidate should not be told that they are on the watch list. They should not be told how they're doing in council discussions, or how close they are (or aren't) to being asked to join the Order. This includes your students if you have any on the discussion lists!
I once brought the question to the Living History forum on Compuserve, and discussed with several folk what would happen if they were told that they were on the watch list for the Laurel (I don't recall specifically why I chose the Laurel ...). I got several opinions, and in all but one case, these opinions basically stated that knowing that they were on the watch list would change the way that they acted around peers of the Order in question, and how they viewed their own work. In some cases it would make it difficult for them to do what they were doing (remember the discussion on "doing what you do because you enjoy it"?) because they would be seeing Laurels looking at their work, dissecting it, tearing them apart over it (even if it wasn't actually happening -- paranoia is an interesting thing ...). Others felt that knowing might not change how they actually did their work, but that they would be more aware of Laurels around them. I mention this to show that just knowing that a candidate is on the watch list, or thinks that they're on the watch list is likely to change their behavior, and affect the way they act and do things at events -- at that point, you are not seeing the "real" person anymore, intentionally or otherwise on the part of the candidate.
The council, on the other hand, should never sit around and just snipe about candidates. I feel pretty lucky in that the Orders of the Laurel and Pelican in the central part of the West seldom do that, and usually when a member of the council pulls something like this, they get called on it pretty quickly ("Well, so and so did x." -- "Can you cite an event, and specifics?" -- "No" -- "Then don't bring it up ..." -- I've heard (and sometimes been involved in) this conversation more than once ...).
For what it's worth -- the members of the peerage never tell the Crown that a candidate is to be asked to join the Order -- they deliberate, and make suggestions to the Crown. The Crown is not obligated to accept those suggestions (positive or negative). The Crown may, at their discretion, ask any member of the populace to join any of the polling Orders of Peerage -- the members of the Order may protest, but it is entirely up to the Crown! (Luckily, the Crown usually agrees with the Orders of Peerage on these matters, but as noted, They are certainly not required to.) The members of the Order are advising the Crown in these meetings.
Since this is sort of turning into a "how to be a peer primer", as a side note -- if a significant other is being discussed, it is usually a good idea to leave the meeting. Many people end up not saying what they really want to (or need to), because the candidate's significant other is sitting there. This is particularly hard if there really is a problem with the candidate. Generally just stepping away from the Royal Pavilion (where most of these meetings are held) or out of the room if at an indoor event, is good enough. A member of the order will come get you when the discussion is over ... In some cases, if you have direct input on your significant other's candidacy, you may want to 'say your piece' and then leave ...