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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: TSI 21 Mentoring Women in the Profession: New Models and Metaphors (Part 1)
Reviewed by: Angela González, a.m.gonzalez3@tcu.edu
Posted on: April 13, 2004

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Chair: Heather Bruce


Karen Rowan, “Mentor as Master, Mentor as Mother: Rethinking Metaphors for Mentorship”
Jane Detweiler, “Learning the Uses of Power: Mentoring While Being Mentored”
Cindy Moore, “Beyond One-to-One: The Possibilities for Community Mentoring”
Margrethe Ahlschwede, “Teachers Mentoring Teachers: The West Tennessee Writing Project”

Prior to coming to CCCC, I asked seasoned conference-goers to give me, a first-timer, some advice for making the most of my experience. Among the many useful bits of wisdom the voices of experience gave me, the ones I heeded faithfully were “take snacks with you because you will want to go to sessions and should not skip meals” and “go to a SIG.” I wish I had been able to stay another night in San Antonio so that I could have gone to Part 2 of this SIG (and back to El Mercado). I chose this meeting because I am a first-year Ph.D. student and am in my eighth year of teaching college-level composition: I am mentoring while being mentored. I have had numerous students use my Kleenex. I have used some Kleenex too. First-year graduate students might not be all that different.

In this SIG each presenter gave a short talk about her concerns or experiences with mentoring (from being a grad student to being a tenured professor; mentoring in the classroom, the office, and the community).

Heather Bruce and Karen Rowan discuss multiple mentor/mentee models and gendered assumptions and how mentoring is a slippery term whether we speak in metaphors or not although many of us do. Speaking in metaphors, a mentor is a guide—mixture of parent and peer or a sponsor—coach—confidant—protector. Rowan acknowledges traditionally hierarchical notions of the relationship, but offered alternative relationships: co-mentors. She then asks us to consider three basic levels of mentoring that vary in contact and demands between participants.

1. role modeling: least contact, least demanding; greatest distance, not much confidence shared

2. counseling: more contact, more demanding; talking about problems and concerns, typically the more “senior” offering advice and consultation

3. friendship: most demanding and reciprocal; dialogic; both engaging in discussion and activity, expecting advice and giving it, sharing stories and ideas

    Jane Detweiler discussed mentoring while being mentored. Her metaphor for mentoring is “line dancing”: we’re watching others move along, but we’re uncomfortable with the music and afraid to dance. We decide to try it out, but are awkward, fumbling around. But then some kind person notices our discomfort and exaggerates her moves to show us how to do the moves and we follow her a bit and watch our own feet, hers, and others’. We start to get the hang of it, afraid to move any other body parts, but when we start to get a little more comfortable, she goes back to her dancing and checks on us now and again and there we are swinging our arms, hoping for approval (I think). Then we notice another scared dancer, awkwardly moving, so we offer some help, exaggerating our moves . . .

    This was great for me. As a new grad student entering into a new discipline, I worry about annoying my professors and peers who seem to have the moves “down”—they’re swaying hips and tipping hats, and I’m counting beats and trying not to bump into the guy with the big boots in front of me. Reflecting on this, however, I think of my own students, my first-year freshmen in particular, and how they apprehensively meet with me in the beginning. Once they meet me in my office, they realize I’m a human being who does care about their academic and personal development. I do want them to talk to me. I want them to be honest, even when it’s painful for me to hear. I don’t want them to expect me to solve their problems for them, but I will help if I can. And I always want to help them celebrate victories. Detweiler comments that students “may assume a greater degree of closeness than we intend” at times, and we may wonder, “How many boxes of Kleenex do we need in our offices?” I certainly have wondered this same thing. And I worry that I will make my own mentors wonder this same question because I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I am stressed or frustrated over school issues or personal ones, it’s hard for me to hide it. As a student, I appreciate a mentor/professor/peer sharing her or his dilemmas or situation as well. I have felt as though I was selfish in discussions that were focused all on my issues. It helps to see that the mentor sees me as a trusted colleague or friend—these are the mentor relationships that have been most meaningful to me.

    They need to know that there is only one of us and many of them—yes—and she says that we need to consider how to articulate this without hurting them or the relationship. Detweiler emphasized that it’s important for us as mentors to focus on our own needs and to try to take a position beside the student—not to neglect the student’s needs but to articulate ours as well and create a reciprocal situation. We can do this with good questioning and appropriate distancing. Finally, she advises that we must “make our academic boot scoot boogie more rewarding for all of us.”

Cindy Moore discusses community mentoring and mentoring new teachers: observation and reflection, collaboration in research and teaching, and networking through listservs. She talks about new teachers observing experienced faculty and recording and reflecting the new teachers’ observations. This kind of mentoring by example is based on a constructivist perspective, a negotiation of teacher subjectivity informed by Vygotsky and Bruffee. The new teachers observe and consider their own reactions to the experienced teachers’ pedagogies and classroom activities. Such mentoring is also informed by a feminist perspective such as that propounded by bell hooks.

Moore addresses how faculty and student collaboration in research comprises another form of mentorship as well as team teaching with faculty and graduate students. Membership on listservs can serve as a mentorship. In my own experience, joining a listserv can be an excellent networking strategy and kind of distance-mentoring. After posting a query and responding to others, I have developed some important relationships through listservs.

Margrethe Ahlschwede asks us to freewrite and make a list of mentors, then write how their mentorship was important to us or why they were great mentors. Some of us share our responses and they ranged from mine—considering me a colleague and making me feel like one when I originally didn’t see myself that way; building my confidence—to others’ responses about encouraging them to finish work and showing them how to handle difficult processes. This exercise sparks a discussion on mentoring as an activity in which all involved work through what they need. Ahlschwede shares how her university’s participation in the National Writing Project puts them in a position to mentor inside and outside their institution, yet another valuable possibility for mentorship.

I left the SIG thinking how mentoring relationships are perhaps the most complicated situations we find ourselves in in our work. I think I’ll keep this in mind when I work with students and remember to share my experiences with them and talk about my position in the mentoring relationship. I wish to add attending conferences as a means of developing mentoring relationships as well. Although I did not go to the big party at CCCC, I did plenty of awkward dancing and luckily, plenty of kind folks showed me a few moves.

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