3 Things I Learned While Teaching

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This week at LaGuardia, we have started a new project, a big one. The Center for Teaching and Learning has implemented a newly redesigned freshmen seminar for both natural sciences and business majors. This is the culmination of a long process that took a lot of planning and professional development preparation. In it, I was able to engage with faculty and staff from the center and from other departments in the planning process in which, of course, I learned a lot.

It is not [the peer mentor] role per se what should be highlighted, but rather its meaning what should drive the relationship between the peer mentor and the student.

The major change for us all in my office is having to mentor freshmen students. So far, we have worked with students who are half way through or close to graduation and with a clear idea, most of the time, of what they want to do. This new freshmen seminar, however, poses a major challenge in our daily jobs because students are just entering college and their expectations are quite different. Our role is even more crucial because we’re forming their idea of what it is like to be in college. 

Just yesterday, I got to sit in to observe a new colleague teach his first freshmen class. In providing feedback to him, this observation helped me rethink my own way of approaching the class and the things I have learned in these four years, and which I think will help me as we embark in this new initiative. 

1. You are a mentor, but also a student just like them

In our first session, I introduce myself to the students and I tell them my story as a LaGuardia student. Back in 2007, I also took the freshmen seminar and also went through the process of learning more about my major and future career, but also how to joggle college, work, and my family all at once. We all do. A peer mentor is someone who shares closely what the student experiences. It is not role per se what should be highlighted, but rather its meaning what should drive the relationship between the peer mentor and the student.

2. Your body language says a lot

In instructing students and leading a class, it is imperative that one expresses confidence and comfort through body language. Our classes are procedural, which means that students are most of the time engaged in a series of steps to follow. This requires us to outline processes and give directions. The importance of body language is as crucial as making eye contact with students so that they are engaged with purpose in the lesson.

3. A peer makes students self-sufficient

This is a crucial point to me. Students in the seminar should be encouraged to be self-sufficient and be proactive in searching for the resources they need. Before doing that, though, they have to know what they are looking for and what they are in need of, that’s why being proactive becomes important. The peer mentor is there to guide the students through the many challenges faced and how to go about searching for resources and creating connections that will enable them to find what they need.

Now, of course there are many thing we can talk about but the above, I think, are the three key main ideas to highlight. I hope could these help my new colleagues or anyone else out there in a similar position.

Have you participated in a mentorship program with freshmen students? What was your experience like? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo: saumag on Flickr.



I am an ePortfolio instructor working in New York City. I am also a student in the MA program in educational psychology at Hunter College. In my current position, I instruct students how to develop and build their ePortfolio to showcase their academic skills. I also collaborate in professional development seminars with faculty members from various departments on building the curriculum to teach the first year seminar experience. Read more about me.