Thursday, August 31, 2006

The one where I mentor the mentor

As I've posted previously, on Friday this week, I'll have a mandatory (for me) class meeting with my Special Programs Class, an intro writing class tied to our program to help first year students adjust to college life and such. I have a mentor for the real class (except that she hasn't responded to my emails lately... hmmm), but she's not going to make it to this Friday's session, so the SPC office has assigned me a student mentor who's been in their training program.

We emailed the other day, and I invited her to come talk to me at the office about what we'd do that day. She came yesterday.

Now, I'm going to be critical here, but I want to be clear that I'm not being critical of this student, especially, but of the training she's received. Okay, I'm being a little critical of her because she didn't think about her task much, but I think she was smart enough to think once I put a problem before her.

I started off telling Ms M that there are a few things I really want to accomplish during the session, starting to learn names (and have them learn names, too), giving a short intro to some college culture issues, and having them exchange emails and phone information. Then I asked her what she wanted to accomplish.

She said she thought she'd go through the handbook (not, as I thought previously, the handbook about plagiarism and rights/rules and such, but the massive orientation handbook. There's over an inch thick of 8x11 copies and handouts in the book. Seriously.) and then do some ice-breakers. She said, that's what they did in her orientation, and what they talked about in the mentoring prep classes. (In other words, she thought about what she wanted to do rather than what she wanted to accomplish. I've become such a nerd about teaching these days.)

So I asked her what she'd thought of her orientation, what she'd taken away, what she'd learned? She looked puzzled, and then the light came on. Not much. She'd been totally bored, hadn't remembered a thing, and had just wanted to escape.

We talked a little about how overwhelmed students are with orientation stuff, how they're bombarded with loads and loads of information with little time to process, and little help prioritizing what's important for them. She got it. And then was at a loss for what to do. Yes, trust me to totally undermine all the mentoring training. But what the heck are they thinking telling mentors to plod through this huge orientation handbook? Does anyone think students learn anything useful from that? (Students do learn more about boredom and irritation, no doubt.)

So I asked her what three things she thought were most important to tell first year students. She chose add/drop dates, info about the academic help and counseling centers, and advice to go talk to their advisors early. So, that's what she's going to talk about. We checked on add/drop dates, so she'll be able to give them those dates and they can write them in the ubiquitous oversized academic calendars NWU gives them. And she's going to have the locations and phone numbers for the help and counseling centers, and will show them how to get there on the map. And the advisor thing's just a bonus.

That's it. If they leave the room knowing those three things, she'll have done a good job.

Then we talked about ice breakers, which, frankly, I think are usually useless. Maybe I just haven't done the right ones? My experience is that most people leave ice breakers without really engaging the other person or people; they just do the exercise and that's it.

My goal is to get them to begin to know some peers, to begin to understand that they can work together to get more out of their experiences, to begin to feel a bit comfortable in a community where they'll be challenged to try out ideas verbally and in writing in front of peers. I can begin to do that by getting them to do the name learning thing with me: each person will actually have to name everyone in the class during the session. Yes, that means they'll actually have to pay attention AND try to say something in front of the whole class, even if that something is basically other peoples' names. (And I begin to learn names: it's all about me!)

I'll have them exchange phone numbers and email info because that's the beginning of working together, recognizing that they can ask someone else questions about class. A little tiny beginning, but a beginning. (And, please, Flying Spaghetti Monster, could they please ask each other if I said anything important when they miss class! Again, it's all about me!)

Retrospectively, this post sounds self-serving. Wow, what a smart Bardiac I am. Blah.

Here's what I want it to say: the mentoring trainers need to do a better job training mentors to think about what students most need from this meeting (when they're already overwhelmed with information in general).

Our students don't often think critically about the ways we teach them, but if you push them on things, they're capable of putting things together. The problem is that I won't always be there to push them on things, and I want them to learn to push back on their own. In a way, that basic critical response is the key thing I want students to leave the university with. And it seems like one of the very hardest things to actually teach.

So maybe mentoring this mentor is actually the most important thing I'll do this week.

1 comment:

  1. I loathe ice breakers with a fiery passion. I always feel like I'm going to be asked if I've accepted Jesus into my heart afterwards (bad high school memories). I just had to let that out :)