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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: MW 2 Mentoring Matters: A “Best Practices” Workshop for Mentors of Composition Instructors and Teaching Assistants
Reviewed by: Wendy Sharer, sharerw@mail.ecu.edu
Posted on: April 27, 2004
Updated on: April 29, 2004

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This workshop provided participants with 5 different small group discussion “stations,” covering the following topics: Mentoring Adjuncts and Lecturers; Mentoring in Programs that are Expanding or in Transition; Peer Mentoring; Mentoring in MA Programs; and Mentoring TAs Across the Curriculum. Faculty from different institutions ran the small groups, providing workshop participants with an excellent variety of institutional contexts to explore and discuss. Below are brief descriptions of the 4 stations I visited.


Station 1: Mentoring lecturers and adjuncts.
 
Session-leader Chidsey Dickson raised both practical and theoretical questions about mentoring Lecturers and Adjuncts.  Dickson suggested that the best mentoring practices achieve the following goals (these are taken from the handout Dickson developed for the session):

Cast all participants as learners and teachers

Provide opportunities for rhetcomp specialists to frame informal discussions/presentations for a range of audiences important to first-year composition (new faculty, literature faculty, administration, accreditation services, etc.)

Combine face-to-face and electronic articulations of important issues in teaching

Integrate group discussion on teaching into the concerns of a program and department—i.e., revision of outcomes and assessment

Furthermore, Dickson stressed, it is important to ensure that mentoring activities are not presented as “perfunctory” or merely as a sharing of “what works for me,” but are instead seen as part of a larger effort to strengthen the composition program, to provide cohesion among diverse faculty and sometimes diverse approaches to teaching. Mentoring activities can also be used to encourage new approaches to teaching writing.  One of the most important points I gleaned from Dickson’s presentation and his handout is that mentoring activities need to be presented in a way that doesn’t make them seem like policing strategies.  Rather, mentoring activities for adjuncts and lecturers will be most beneficial if they encourage instructors to expand their repertoire of teaching practices and to try new things.  Such experimentation is often difficult for lecturers and adjuncts because of the unstable nature of their employment (it’s safer to stick with what has worked in the past, particularly if your rehiring is primarily dependent upon student evaluations of your teaching) and the hectic conditions of their work (it is difficult to devise new ways of approaching the teaching of writing when you are teaching a heavy load, often at more than one institution).

Dickson then provided some background information about a mentoring program he developed at his university. This program centered on brown bag presentations in which lecturers and adjuncts addressed not “best classroom practices,” but instead worked to answer two key questions:

How do we prepare students to meet the outcomes with our pedagogies?

How do we help students demonstrate that they will meet the outcomes?

These questions focus teaching practices on the larger goals of the course while allowing for different pedagogical approaches that might achieve the same ends. WPAs might make greater use of these sessions by creating a web archive of materials based on them. This web archive can provide resources for teachers and good public relations material to show to administrators.


Station 2: Mentoring in Programs Expanding or in Transition

While other stations covered strategies for helping supervisors and administrators work with those they supervise, this station provided important information about dealing with higher level administrators and for developing curricula to meet the needs of increasing numbers of TAs and lecturers/part time teachers. Presenters Allison Smith and Trixie Smith from Middle Tennessee State University provided an overview of the administrative structure at their university and discussed the complications of developing a mentoring program within such a structure. Smith and Smith also discussed new courses developed within their program to prepare TAs.  These include a course in writing center theory and history and a practicum course in composition pedagogy. The presenters also provided detailed syllabi for each course. Donald Bushman of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington presented similar documents that map the GTA mentoring program at Wilmington and that introduce the expanding pool of GTAs and lecturers to the policies of the English department (attendance policy, grading policy, exam policy, etc.).

 
Station 3: Peer Mentoring

The material presented at this station focused on peer mentoring programs at two large universities in Florida: Florida State University and the University of South Florida.  Leaders Deborah Coxwell Teague, Teresa Grettano, and Allison Brimmer presented information on how experienced teaching assistants mentor new teaching assistants (or adjuncts) in these two programs. Materials presented from both institutions stressed some similar points about the roles peer mentors should play:

Mentors should serve as support, not “police,” of their newer colleagues

Mentors should visit their mentees classes and vice versa, providing feedback and encouragement on topics ranging from time management, discussion techniques, and grading.

Peer mentor programs should foster a stronger sense of community among TAs and adjuncts

Peer mentoring programs should provide exceptional opportunities for professional development

The packet of program materials provided by the presenters from South Florida was particularly useful.  Included in this extensive handout were a “needs assessment” for developing a peer mentoring program, a troubleshooting guide for developing peer mentoring programs, a class observation feedback form for peer mentoring participants to use, and a peer mentoring program feedback form.  These sample documents will prove invaluable to any workshop participants who are just beginning to develop peer mentoring programs.


Station 4: Mentoring TAs from Across the Curriculum

The last session I attended provided information about a WAC-based TA mentoring program. Leader Virginia Draper of the University of California, Santa Cruz, discussed approaches used by the university’s stand alone Writing Program to teaching TAs from different disciplines how to focus their course on writing while also using their disciplinary expertise to enhance student learning. The program at UCSC combines both formal and informal mentoring. Formal mentoring comes through a course in the teaching of writing, a program handbook, and an assignment to work with a Writing Program mentor. Graduate TAs who are in the same graduate programs also informally mentor each other through regular meetings.

This station also provided participants with an extremely useful packet of forms used in the mentoring process:  a list of duties for TAs, a teaching evaluation form for TAs, a statement of program writing instruction goals, and a syllabus for Writing 203: Teaching Writing, the course designed to train TAs from across the curriculum to teach writing.  


While these thirty minute sessions did not provide quite enough time for discussion leaders to fully explain their mentoring programs or institutional situations, each leader provided extremely useful and detailed handouts describing, among other things, mentoring structures, mentoring program evaluations, and mentoring philosophies. As a new WPA, I found this information extremely useful. The session closed with a discussion of possible ways to continue the conversation about mentoring and to provide wider access to the useful materials shared during the session (e.g. email lists, a website including a compilation of relevant information, etc.).


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