Earlier this school year I wrote about mentoring as part of my mandate for the year, and now that my school year is ending I have time to reflect on how this worked for me and my students. I work with lots of students. In previous years the number was close to 1200 students per year. This last year, I had a teaching release and taught more than 900 students. I am also an Undergraduate Advisor, which means that students can potentially get lots of face time with me.
I did a few things differently this year. Some students I mentored, and mentored actively, while others I tried to coach. Let me first talk about the active mentoring. These are the students who were strongly encouraged to submit a paper to an undergraduate journal or to another publishing opportunity. I also was hands on with my honors student and think that we worked together well. I had another honors student who I was the second reader for and I decided that I would not do him any favors if I did not conduct a close reading of his thesis. I consequently had more than 45 comments on his 100 page document. None of this was meant to put any of the students through the gears, but rather to help them submit their best work.
I even signed up one mentee for Social Media Camp, so that she could have another venue to present some of her research about SlutWalk. This opportunity will expand her network. I am also emailing colleagues around town and trying to connect my students to them. These connections have led to some ad hoc work opportunities and more. I continue to write letters of reference and help students assess graduate school or other post-graduation opportunities much like any other advisor.
The students that I coached were typically of a few varieties—new students who were trying to figure out how to maneuver the classroom and university experience and more advanced undergraduate students who needed less direction. In a similar way, I treated the graduate students in more of a coaching capacity as I continued to let go and give most of them more autonomy with the tutorials that they lead and the workshops that they ran. It is hardest for me to wrap my head around letting go, as I feel such a sense of responsibility for a great learning environment for the first year students. Some of the Teaching Assistants really want the opportunity to do more, but others really are not interested in doing anything new or different. Then, there are others who are not really ready to do this sort of work and these graduate students can cause the most work for an instructor. The graduate students who appear less than eager to facilitate, learn, and offer some semblance of flexibility are definitely the ones who I do not want to work with again. This might sound harsh, but I take my coaching seriously and I also realize that the Teaching Assistants are an integral part of the first year teaching team.
My mandate in the department is to work closely with undergraduate students, and I consequently spend more time with them by virtue of teaching only first through fourth year courses. I get to see the students straight out of high school through their graduation and I find that their mentoring or coaching needs vary. I try to remember this and offer my particular skills when they need or want them. I cannot mentor or coach half of them, but the ones who seek me out or take courses with me really is the pool of potential mentees. While mentoring was my mandate for the last year, I have come to realize that it will continue as something that I do.
Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.
Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is an occasional blogger at University of Venus and her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook and when she has time, she blogs at http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/.