Every mentor is a teacher, but not every teacher is a mentor. These people are rare. At the same time, I do not think there is any mystery to their success.
The key is investment. Students know they have a professor’s attention in class, but outside of that they are unsure. It’s as if some invisible wall pops up, and they can only peer over.
My approach to mentorship is, simply, to break down that wall. As a TA I hold office hours at the local coffee shop rather than the department, a setting that students find more welcoming. I hold extended office hours—and publicize them—before exams and papers. Throughout the semester I remain in constant electronic contact, so that students know I am approachable in the event they need to talk.
Mentorship is like any organic relationship. If you’re thinking too much about it you’re doing it wrong. My recipe is simple: I give my students undivided attention, and they give me their best work.
As a teacher, nothing is more moving than unsolicited thanks. I do not expect these messages, but always welcome them as evidence of a life well spent.
I am writing to thank you for your dedicated support as TA for my very first political science class, and to update you about my IR honors thesis. . . which fortunately won an award from my department.
. . .
Without your weekly office hour, I would have never been able to continue my passion in politics at Brown.
I cannot thank you enough for all your support back then, which created my foundation for who I am now.
I just wanted to thank you for a terrific semester in American Political Process. I know it can’t be easy for you having to lead our late night sections, but I just wanted to say that I appreciate all the energy and enthusiasm that you brought to our classes every week. I saw that you were recognized for being an excellent T.A and I just wanted to let you know that I wholeheartedly agree and am so fortunate that I chose to be in your section!
Just wanted to say thank you for being an involved, genuine TA for my section. Having had you both in Freshman Fall’s [Campaigns and Elections] course as well as now, I’m really excited for the prospect of you teaching at an university in the near future because your passion for the material along with your sincere kindness and determination to make sure others not only understand the course but enjoy it, too, will make such a difference in someone’s educational experience.