Benefits of a Mentor During Your First Year as Faculty
Your first year as a faculty member is an exciting time full of enriching and valuable new experiences. You begin your teaching career while working on publications, committee work, and presentations. You will start to integrate yourself into your new school and community. However, for many newcomers to higher education, the first year can also be overwhelming and discouraging. Teaching can feel alienating, publication and presentation demands what free time you have left, and if you are living far away from home, it can be lonely.
Having a mentor is an important resource to have, especially during your first year. Here are just a few ways a mentor can make your first year the best it can be.
A mentor can help you learn more about the college and community.
Even if you went through training and orientation for new faculty, there is still a lot to learn about your new school and community. A mentor can be a valuable resource while you are still learning the ropes – everything from learning how to handle disciplinary issues, to scheduling your classes, to working the finicky copy machine. Remember that there are no stupid questions, and that it’s better to ask for help or clarification than trying to handle everything on your own.
Your mentor can also help you learn more about the community surrounding your school. Often, new faculty members are not just new to the college; they are also new to the city as well. Mentors can give you useful advice on local organizations to get involved in, volunteer opportunities – or where to get the best margarita after a long week!
A mentor can advocate for you in tough situations.
In my own experience, this was the most important thing my mentor ever did for me. After catching several of my students cheating on an exam, I relied heavily on my mentor to help me through the disciplinary process. Not only did he give advice on how to handle the situation, he made sure I had the support of my department and any resources I needed throughout the process. He wasn’t able to attend meetings or hearings, but he made sure I had another seasoned colleague with me to offer support.
Good mentors will not only guide you to make your own decisions – they will go to bat for you when you need it. This will help you feel more confident the next time a problem arises or more comfortable asking for help in the future.
A mentor can help you with your career goals.
Having a more experienced colleague to discuss career goals is invaluable. They likely started out where you are, and can give you advice to plan for your future. Your mentor can help you define your career goals more clearly, and show you the path to get there.
For example, if you want to take on a leadership role within your department someday, your mentor can give you advice on how to do that, or if it’s even possible at your college. Some colleges only promote from within, and some only promote from the outside – something that may help you determine whether your current college is a good fit for your future. It could take you years to learn that information on your own – but your mentor will likely already know how the hiring system works, and can guide you in the right direction.
A mentor can help you have a better work/life balance.
One of the biggest problems new faculty members face in their first year is burnout. It’s normal to work longer hours and make personal sacrifices for a new job, but many end up working themselves into sickness, exhaustion, or quitting altogether.
A mentor can easily tell if you are getting burnt out and step in to get your work/life balance back on track. For example, my mentor helped me set clearer boundaries with my students, colleagues, and myself. Instead of being “on call” all the time, I stop answering emails and phone calls after a certain hour so I have time to spend biking, hiking, reading, or going on a date with my husband. Without my mentor stepping in, I would still feel guilty when saying no to the late-night emails and phone calls. He reassured me that taking time for myself is important, and I can’t thank him enough for that. I am not sure I would have survived my first year of teaching without it.
Okay, a mentor sounds great. How do I get one?
If you are fortunate enough to work for a department that has a mentor program, sign up! Your department will pair you up with a seasoned colleague, and may even help with scheduling meetings or have special outings for new faculty and mentors.
However, if you are like most new faculty, your college or department doesn’t have the budget or feel the need for a mentoring program. In this case, you’ll have to reach out to a colleague on your own. My mentor happened to be my interviewer, and we got along well from the moment we met. Many of my friends found their mentors through their committee work, faculty outings, or just plain knocking on office doors and asking. Most of your colleagues want to help you succeed – in most cases all you have to do is ask!
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Heather Patton is a writer, editor, and adjunct English instructor with 10 years of experience in helping her students become the best writers they can be. She has taught at Wright State University and Clark State Community College in Dayton, OH, and Seattle Central College in Seattle, WA. Her students often refer to her as “nice but expects a lot,” which she feels is a pretty accurate assessment of her teaching philosophy. She has an M.A. in English Composition and Rhetoric from Wright State University. When she isn’t grading papers or editing company websites, she is an avid hiker, voracious reader, and makes a mean banana bread.