Teaching...is it really actually mentorship?

My mentor in college told me, "no one plays football, basketball, or any sport for that matter, alone-you need to be part of a team." I learned that psychology was no different. Ironically, I was introduced to psychology immediately after graduating from high school, during a time when I wasn't sure where I was heading. I was invited by a professor I knew to take his intro to psychology class at the local community college. I didn't know what I wanted to do post high school and I figured psychology couldn't be that bad. The experience changed my life. To this day, my first psychology professor is still my friend and mentor. He was able to engage us as students, at times forcing discussion, but with the final outcome of concepts; models that helped label and explain our everyday behaviors. My professors invested interest in me and passion for the subject motivated me to pursue psychology in college. Little did I know, this would be the spring board to my career.

During college, I found a group of professors in the psychology department that showed an invested interest in seeing me succeed. The people I was surrounded by helped me realize that I didn't have to accomplish my goals on my own. At a time in my life when I could not find my way as a solo player, my professors, a campus ministry director, my resident hall assistant, and even the university administrative staff became my team. Thus, my own experiences have led me to two main assumptions: we all need a team and we all need guidance along the path of academics, and more importantly, our lives.

First, the classroom is a team, a group of individuals coming together for a common purpose. I feel as though teaching comes not solely from the teacher but from every person in the classroom-every member of team. Psychology is a subject in which each student brings with them, not a blank slate, but preconceived notions about what psychology is and what it looks like in our everyday lives. Their assumptions, generalizations, and ideologies are all fueled by their background, culture and past experiences. I want to encourage students to contribute their unique and diverse perspectives. Each student has anecdotes that can bring psychology out of the text book and into every day life.

Second, I view teaching as mentorship, a unique opportunity lead a group and guide individuals to better specific aspects of themselves and enhance their understanding and control over broader aspects of their lives. There are three aspect of my teaching style that I believe aid in the successful mentorship of students as individuals: 1) being a black Canadian whom has lived in different areas of the United States, my eclectic background helps relate and connect with a diverse group of individuals; 2) I am able to use creativity in my teaching and relationship with my students; 3) and, I am able to effectively use emotion in the classroom to translate my love and passion for psychology to my students. I see teaching as more than simply providing a fundamental knowledge about the subject, but an opportunity for students to experience diversity in thoughts and ideas, have their own creative natures sparked within themselves, and perhaps gain an understanding of what passion looks and feels like so that they can recognize it in their own lives. Enhancing their self-awareness, I suggest, will ultimately help them choose the career path that is right for them.

What this looks like in the classroom

As can be seen in the Abnormal Psychology syllabus, group discussion is encouraged. Self-disclosure is seen as something helpful to the group and to the individual. Much of class time is spent in a circle formation. Each class is started with group relaxation and mindfulness practices. Every student in the group has an opportunity to share their experience during the practice and what has been effective at home. To help students monitor their own progress and experiences throughout the course, daily journal entries are a requirement of the course. This same type of "Self-Monitoring" was assigned as a final project in the Stress & Coping class. Students were required to keep track of their stress levels for two weeks and, during this time, apply stress management skills learned in class.

Being available for student

Mentoring students requires forming relationships and being available to listen, observe, and give advice. The utlimate act of guiding the student in the right direction requires first, knowing the student as an individual and understanding their specific needs and abilities. To achieve this, I encourage students to contact me or the TA via email or phone often, and I try to meet with students in person as frequently as possible. Forming relationships early on helps me be able to aid students overcome hurdles later on in the semester. Therefore, students are given specific times each week to meet with myself or the TA to discuss progress and thoughts about the class.

Guidance and Direction

Ideas are not going to come solely from myself but from the class as a whole. To encourage the sharing of ideas and eliminate the idea that the teacher is the "head" of the class and has all of the answers, the TA for the course will lead up to 50% of the classes. For this to be effective, I schedual weekly meetings with the TA to promote communication and ensure that: 1)the TA is not overwhelmed and; 2) we both have the same topics and goals in mind for each class. Further, each student is asked to lead discussion at least once during the course of the semester. This gives students the opportunity to not only take a genuine investment in the class and to teach it they way they want, but it allows everyone to hear a different perspective. In addition, by presenting work and evaluating each other within the classroom, each student will learn to give receive and give feedback. More importantly, students will learn how to evaluate each other's work. Because, in the end, guidance doesn't come solely from the teacher but from everyone in the classroom--from the whole team.