Jen’s post about teaching prep had me feeling all nostalgic for the classroom. And I’ve admitted that I do miss that start-of-semester energy. This is my first year out of the classroom since 2004, and it has been tough to miss out on that freshly printed syllabus, stacks of books, brand new faces vibe that the rest of the campus is enjoying.
But, I did want to speak to some of the ways that (at least so far) academic advising has activated those same sensors in my teacher brain, even if I’m not teaching Hunger Games to a room full of first years.
- Advisers help first years make sense of college in a key transitional role, similar to a lot of the emotional work we do as instructors for first year students.
I’m answering a lot of the same questions I have every fall, albeit in a different office, and in a more general way. Where do I buy books? How can I approach this super scary prof in a giant lecture course? How can I do all this reading? I miss my Mom! Etc. One lovely thing about advising is that my entire purpose is to support students in their success, so if they are truly unhappy, I have a lot of resources and options available that are within the scope of my role (unlike teaching, which has to maintain a focus on learning outcomes, content, the specifics of your class or dept, etc).
- Ongoing relationship with students.
I get students for 3 semesters, on average. I’ve only just started, but I can see how you do get to know kids and see them grow and change over 18 months. I loved that the program I used to teach in, which offered support to at-risk freshmen, lasted two semesters. I get the same benefits with a longterm advising relationship. I also feel like I get a fuller sense of students’ lives: their families, their dreams and goals, their activities and friends, their lived experience as college students. It’s a very personal connection, and I enjoy that.
- Sharing excitement about SCHOOL!
OK, it’s true, I don’t get to have an enthusiastic, full-class discussion about Friday Night Lights anymore. But I did talk for over 40 minutes with a new student who wants to be an anthropology major! We talked about different tracks in anthro, some of the awesome field experiences he could take, and I got to say things like, “Have you seen the awesome Museum Studies certificate the University offers??”
Similarly, I advised an English major who is thinking about creative writing. Or geology. Or law school. She was so excited about every possible path, and I was excited, too!! After five years of working with at-risk students, for whom school is often (understandably!) a negative experience and not a strong aspect of their identities, it’s so refreshing to talk to kids who are thrilled to be here, and curious and interested in all that a liberal arts education has to offer. You should have seen her face light up when I said she could take a Printmaking course to fulfill a Gen Ed. That’s what makes college awesome, and I really love college!
- I use my teacher spidey skills to solve different problems.
In the classroom, I’m really good at sensing when a student in my class is struggling. I can tell that something’s not right, bring them in the office, and troubleshoot. Often, it has to do with directing them to the writing center, reassuring them about things, etc. I do a lot of that as an advisor. But I also troubleshoot bigger issues, like LIFE DREAMS.
For example, I met earlier this week with a student who wanted to drop a course she was taking as part of her elementary education interest major. Through the conversation, I could tell that she was troubled when she kept insisting that she should probably suck it up and get through the course, even though she wasn’t 100% sold on education as a career. So I started asking questions and she said she loved volunteering and working with senior citizens. I said, “Have you heard about the [major that focuses on community work through recreational therapy]? And our [program that focuses on working with the elderly]?” Hello! It’s like these programs were tailored for her. She ended up switching to an art elective that she is thrilled about, and that might connect to work she could do if she changes her major. That was awesome! She’s going to be so much more happy and successful moving forward. I helped with that! How cool!
So, there are ways that advising (at least) fulfills some of the same aspects of teaching that I truly loved.
PS — ADVISOR or ADVISER??