Identifying a Mentor

Identifying a Teaching Mentor

Mentor with her student.Often, mentoring of new faculty focuses strictly on professional academic career development, but research has shown that mentoring which focuses on teaching plays an important role in faculty job satisfaction. In the July-August 2010 issue of Academe, Nancy Beckerman explains that, “a review of successful mentoring programs revealed that the emphasis on teaching in mentoring resulted in more enthusiasm for teaching, increased interest in educational research, higher publication rates, and greater numbers of presentations about education at professional association meetings.” As you develop your skills and persona as a teacher and become familiar with your new colleagues, it is helpful to identify a teaching mentor from your discipline. The mentor should be a more senior faculty member willing to contribute to your improvement. All tenure-track and some other faculty are assigned mentors; even so, it is frequently helpful to have a specific teaching-focused mentor. 

In locating a mentor, consider the following guidance:

  • Work with your mentor to determine expectations for the mentorship. Be clear about the expectations you bring. It is most helpful to find a mentor who will critique your teaching and materials more than once and who will offer both evaluation and letters of reference.
  • Consider someone who demonstrates devotion to teaching and is recognized for his/ her teaching.
  • If possible, work with someone whose teaching you have observed.

Institutions that have created formalized mentoring programs for new teaching faculty have found that the mentorship should address four areas:

  • a review of educational theory
  • development and mastery of a diversity of teaching techniques
  • collegial networking
  • examination of teaching practices

According to a 2009 study published in Medical Teacher, faculty who had experienced training in the above four areas early in their career in medicine, nursing, law, and the humanities reported overwhelming improvements in their teaching skills. By entering into a productive and collegial relationship with a mentor, you improve not only your own satisfaction with your position but also spend less time on many of the administrative teaching-related tasks in the long run, which in turn creates more time for your own research and publishing.