Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Force Students to Let You Be Their Mentor

I've been thinking about this since Sisyphus's post about insisting on mentorship. See, something one sees professor-types complain about all the time is the whole, "students don't come to my office hours!" and "how can I help them if they don't come for help?" thing. Well. Lemme tell ya. My students fill up my office hours, and I do not have a problem with this. This may mean that I am pushy. It probably means that I'm pushy. But here's the thing: I remember being a student (oh, lo, those many years ago) who was worried about "bothering" my professors. And I remember that I got over this not because I just had an epiphany one day and realized it was ok to bother professors: rather, I had some professors who made it pretty much mandatory that I bothered them. So that's what I do.

Step 1:

The professor tells the students in the class when the office hours are.

This is when most people stop their attempts to get students to show up in their offices. They think, for whatever reason, that students will take this to heart. Most students don't. This is great if you don't actually want to develop relationships with your students. If, however, you do want to develop relationships with students, and especially students who aren't jerks, you've got to do more.

Step 2:

Grade the first assignment mercilessly.

This will get the smarties in. They don't like the harsh grading that results in them getting the first B's of their lives. That said, do you really want only the B+ students to come to office hours? When there are C- and D+ students who really need to show up so that they can really make improvement? Probably no.

Step 3:

If you're ambitious, require all students to come to see you in your office.

But this is not realistic depending on your teaching load and/or circumstances. It is, however, effective, if you're in such a situation as to make mandatory conferences happen. I do recommend, if you're going to do this for all, cancelling class to give yourself time to do it. If your teaching circumstances allow such student-centered practices that is :)

Step 4:

Write on the student's paper that they should come see you, and don't leave any comments for them to follow for the next paper. I've done this on B- papers, I've done this on F papers, I've done this on papers that I probably could have given an A- to but it was clear that the student phoned it in. This is a good strategy if you can't do conferences for a whole class.

Step 5:

Did I mention that you should scare them? And tell them to come to your office before you'll give them real advice on what they need to do to improve?

You know, we spend a lot of time blaming the victim when we talk about mentoring. What do YOU need to do to get mentors; what do YOU need to do to get attention. But in my experience there are a lot of profs out there who want to be mentors who hear crickets in the hallway when they have office hours. They ask themselves, "where are the students? Why do they not want my help?" I'll tell you what. In my experience, if you get them in your office once, they come back. If you help them once, they will then ask for help in the future. It's not that students don't want mentors - it's that they think that their professors don't want to mentor them. A good mentoring relationship depends not just on the student showing up. A good mentor is not just one who is there when a student shows up. At the end of the day, good mentors insist that students get mentored. A good mentor makes it happen. Why do we think that students should be the ones who make mentorship happen? When at the end of the day, it's the mentor who has the power?


Bardiac said...

Great points. I especially like #4. I usually give a comment along with the "come talk to me" and that works, but your method seems great!

Thanks :)

Brigindo said...

Excellent post. I do the cancel class for mandatory office hours when my class size is manageable. I also insist that a small but mandatory task be discussed and approved by me before it can be completed. Some just want to discuss it directly before or after class but it allows me a chance to personally invite them to office hours. I completely agree it is rare to find a student who doesn't want help but common to find students who don't want to be a bother.

Sisyphus said...

Ooh, an interesting twist on the mentoring!

(though I do remember some posts from when you were new to your school talking about you absolutely wiped out you were from conferences and this level of interaction, so ... heh heh, you might have repressed how much hard work that was before you got used to it...)

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, Sis. I remember, and yes, it is exhausting. I guess the thing for me, though, is that otherwise, I have a pretty low-exhaustion job. And now, I'm full time, I make a very reasonable salary, and I've got loads of job security. Probably if I can't get it up to force this level of interaction with my students, I'm a jerk. That said, I would NEVER suggest that somebody who's not in my cushy position do this to themselves. Adjuncts are not paid enough to do this kind of labor. Period.

Dr. Virago said...

Sometimes I hate it when you're right, Crazy. :)

But seriously, I especially like #4 for me. Last year especially I think my comments got too harsh and also just too plenteous for the struggling students. Writing "come see me" would save some time in the grading process and also probably be much more effective.

James said...

You're so mean, but I like it. (-; I think it would work too. Do you have any similar approaches for your online classes?

Digger said...

Crazy, This is good stuff. I wish my students would interact more. Interaction = thinking. I tell them until I'm blue in the face, but rarely do I get an office visit, after-class chit chat, or "can I talk to you over break." Perhaps I need to explain that talking to me isn't bothering me; NOT talking to me is bothering me.

I'm an adjunct, teaching one long night a week for 13 weeks (instead of 2 shorter nights or 3 daytime classes a week). Often, just when they get that I mean it, when they get comfortable enough to ask questions and challenge me (and therefore themselves), class is over. I think I'm going to take your advice and just be pushier up front.

Moria said...

Takes a lot to get me to de-lurk. This post is a big big winner. Thank you.

Dr. Crazy said...

You're welcome, Moira, and do delurk more often! You're welcome here!