Helping or Hindering Students

I want to discuss the fine balance between helping and hindering student progress. I am trying hard to work on this balance, as I am quite aware that sixteen years into teaching I am still learning. My current student population is different from my students circa 2005-6. I have attended various workshops about our students and more specifically about first years. Our students require more hands on attention and most universities now have stronger recruitment and retention strategies.

What this means for me on the ground is that I try to provide students with as much information as possible. But, I have also learned some important lessons. Several years ago I helped my godson register for courses and purchase his books in the bookstore. This entire experience really stuck with me. I have more compassion for my students and I am less invested in “schooling” them when they miss the obvious. There is no obvious for the new student. When I say schooling I am really talking about how I know that I have to repeat myself about due dates, have the due dates bolded in the syllabi, and that students will still inquire about things in the syllabus.

I can only do so much, though, and the students need to meet me half way. What do I mean by that? They need to show up to class and come to my office hours. I am not in the habit of chasing students down between my various courses; however, I will make announcements in class or send announcements via the online learning management platform reminding them about course related issues or other campus events. I do contact students when they suddenly disappear. Here, I am not including students who are in crisis or have other issues like learning accommodations that I must take into account. Those students require a different level of attention.

I have resolved for honesty in my office and with my marking. This translates into support and at times brutal honesty while I am assessing work. I do my students no favor when I am not honest with them. This might mean that I am clear about my  assessment of an assignment or an issue regarding academic integrity. What does this also mean? I am listening more. Does this make me helpful? I hope so. This term a common statement, “What can I do to help your success in this course?” But, this requires that the student contact me. Like I often say in class, “I don’t have ESPN.” I know–I need to find new jokes.

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Mentoring and Coaching: Post-Graduation

I’ve blogged lots about mentoring and coaching. I’ve differentiated the ways that some students require more hands on approach–ergo the mentoring, and some require less and I view this as more of the coaching strategy. I decided to do something different and buy some stationery and send some of my mentees (will use just that word) a note. I wrote the notes recently, but will send them prior to the Fall term. Now, I’ve sent emails and messages via other social media platforms, but I’m kicking it old school with the note cards.

Some of them will start or continue graduate school in the Fall, and others will join the working world outside of academe. I bought these note cards at the Papery on Fort St in Victoria, BC and chose something that was not too big, so that the sentiment wasn’t a thesis. My intention was to write something supportive, and dispense some advice. Academics tend to live our lives term by term or maybe even school year by school year. Graduate students get used to this, too. After graduation many of my former students note that they miss college and the schedule. Thus, I felt it was appropriate to send the note card just when a school term starts and the graduate might reminisce about their undergraduate days. (I know that many of them do, as I get the emails or Facebook messages telling me that they miss their university days and their old schedules).

Each note card was personalized to the particular mentee and my wishes for them. I gave them well wishes and felt quite emotional as I wrote the cards. I’ve given cards for graduation during the last several years, but these cards of well-wishes were different. I don’t view them as closure to our relationship, as I see the mentoring or coaching as not having an expiration date. And, to be quite frank a few of these mentees are now actually great friends to me, and my family. Now, for any former students who didn’t get a note and are wondering where is there note card–this was a first time project and I sent out several. I will do this again. I really hope the students who get the note cards appreciate them. I’ve only started this and will see how it works.

Academics on Academia: Supportive Networks

I sat on Liana’s last post thinking about how important support networks were to me during the various phases of my academic career thus far: undergraduate, new graduate student in Liberal Arts, new graduate student in Political Science, ABD in Political Science, Adjunct, Sessional, and now tenure-track faculty. Support networks never go out of style. They serve an important role helping the academic traverse through the morass of academia. There are multiple reasons why we have legions of ABDs. One major reason, in my opinion, is the lack of supportive networks or people in the student’s life. This includes personal life and professional life.

It’s important to remember that we need camaraderie, mentorship, and support. I have previously shared how lucky I was to be a member of a woman’s academic support group. This group made me realize that I would have to find support networks in Political Science. And, like Liana previously blogged, I had to get outside of my comfort zone and network. This meant attending conferences (debt) and making connections. Then, at the next conference people recognized me and things and I became part of the academic community.

You can’t snap your fingers and have a network of people who are your academic posse. You have to cultivate it and I would argue that you have to have multiple networks to keep sane in this game. There is so much competition and you are rife to have moments of self-doubt, you networks will keep you grounded and focused. Likewise, you need to have supportive networks outside of academe. Gasp. This means you need to try to have a rounded laugh. Oh, stop laughing or smirking. It’s true. You need to take time for yourself, too. This seems antithetical to academe, but it’s important to take care of you!

How do you find the seedlings for supportive networks? One place is via social media. You might find that the professional organization related to your field(s) is the first place to start, but don’t stop there. Look on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and blogs, too. Don’t think that the conferences are the only place to connect with like minded people in your field. See if you can make some early connections via social media sites and then meet up IRL at the conferences. The time investment in meeting people is worth it. Academic communities are incestuous at times and everyone in your discipline knows someone else. This can work to your favor when you’re applying for scholarships, post-docs, and jobs. It can also work to your disadvantage if you’ve been foolish or have burned a bridge via bad behaviour. So, always be professional and collegial.

When you’re at the conferences, business meetings for the sections or groups that you’re interested are worth attending. This is if they are open to the general membership. Find a friendly face and sit near them or hover and listen and learn. You have to make the effort to reach out and hopefully someone will see this and connect with you. Good luck as you look for supportive networks and as you build them, too.