Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 6: What Does a Good Mentor Do?

Day 6 of the Reflective Teaching Challenge: What Does a Good Mentor Do?

Cliches are popping into my head. "Strive for understanding over being understood" is a good one for describing the mentor/mentee relationship.

I can think of a couple of analogies that more specifically describe a mentor relationship. The first is kind of like the analogy I throw composition students the first day of class. I tell them that I'm a guide, not some old wizard. We're going to take a nice hike together. I'll be there, and I can point out some cool stuff they might not see otherwise, but they're walking with me, and they're doing the looking, listening, and feeling the burn when their legs get sore and tired. I think mentors function in a similar way.

The other way in which a mentor might function is as a liaison. If you're in a mentor/protege relationship, it's likely because the protege is going through something that is going to get rocky at times. The mentor, having been in protege's shoes, can refer them to people, tricks, tips--resources, really--that can help them get through it. Is the student trying to get through the semester with a 3.5 GPA? Does she have excellent study skills, but is struggling with an issue with family at home? Maybe she'd be willing to talk to a school psychologist. Maybe you could walk her over there. Do you recognize a bright, diligent student who just can't get over a particular hurdle, who consistently struggles with a kind of learning or social interaction? Maybe they'd be willing to talk about a potential learning disability (or, again, counseling). Mentors aware of available resources can point students in the right direction.

Again, the protege still needs to be willing to walk in that direction.

One other thing a mentor does is get enriched by the experience. Is there anything as intellectually stimulating as observing a class and exchanging ideas with the instructor afterward? Everyone gets something from those exchanges--in no way is the exchange in one direction.

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