Perhaps one of the most overlooked areas of teacher training is mentoring.  When I think of the people who made a difference in my pedagogical training, I think first of my dissertation advisor who took the time not only to guide me in my research and ask hard questions, but also to visit my classes on multiple occasions and write up a full page of notes to help me improve.  I think of my colleague in French who motivated me to become more sensitive to women’s studies and feminist approaches.  I think of my high school Latin teacher who showed me that Latin could be both intellectually challenging and fun.  I think of my colleagues at Cornell College who are as likely to talk with me about teaching, assignments, and students as they are about governance or committee work or life at home.

Yet when I think of mentoring, I also think of the many part-time visiting professors who have taught at my institution.  I have learned from so many of them.  While some are eager to have a conversation with me in my office, over lunch, or walking down the ped mall, others have been reluctant to engage in that exchange.  Perhaps they are too busy.  Perhaps they think that how we teach is less important than research in other areas of the ancient world.  Perhaps they are afraid of showing a lack of knowledge or skill. Or perhaps they feel like they are successful at what they do, so why change or expand their repertoire of pedagogical activities or approaches.

Just last week, as I was updating our department webpage, I stumbled upon a list of all the students  my colleague and I have sponsored for our annual Student Symposium.  The Symposium is an amazing day every spring when the college celebrates the academic accomplishments of our students who present their research as an oral presentation or as a poster.  Some have developed or expanded a paper from a class.  Others have condensed their thesis into a fifteen minute talk.  What I most noticed as I went through the list was how much I remembered that experience with each student, probing, asking questions, brainstorming ideas, thinking about how to reorganize and express the ideas for a general audience.  It was a series of moments that prodded them to see themselves as capable and professional adults.  It was those moments of collaboration and trust that deepened our relationship.  As a result, I consider each and every one of them not just a student, but also a friend.

This issue of Teaching Classical Languages features a special section, “Perspectives on Mentoring Latin Teachers.”  It contains personal essays from Latin teachers who are just beginning to those with many years of experience.  It contains much wisdom about how we can both mentor and be mentored.  The mentoring described can take place in a busy congregate faculty lounge or in a beginning Latin classroom or in a methods course.  It can take place seemingly casually or quite intentionally.  Significantly, in every case it involves two people who want to grow in their pedagogical exploration and are willing to confess their lack of knowledge or their desire for more.  And although the authors of these essays do not explicitly mention it, these meetings evolve into relationships that strengthen our common intellectual enterprise and that blossom into genuine, and often intergenerational, friendships.  I hope that these perspectives on mentoring will awaken the desire for you to become more involved and more intentional in mentoring your colleagues and students.

Comments are closed.