Classroom Parent or Classroom Mentor?

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mcbrayer By Kathy McBrayer, M.Ed., SPHR

I won the Mother of the Year award this month. Yes, it’s true — my neighbor officially posted on my Facebook wall that I earned the award for spending Mother’s Day, 2011, at Six Flags Over Texas with my husband and son.  I humbly accepted the award, not that I am particularly special (although it was close to 90 degrees that day). After all, that is what moms do.

So when I was asked recently how my kids were doing, I naturally assumed the inquiry was about my biological children.  But when I began to answer the question I realized that my colleague was referring to my students — you know, those enrolled in the business class I’m teaching this semester. However, based on how some of my students act, one might think I was the class mom!

The interaction with my colleague got me thinking about this relationship between professor and student.  I don’t view my role within the class as “mother.”  While I care about my students, I approach my role as a New Adjunct as a professional relationship.  I hold both myself and my students to high standards.  I come prepared for each session, and encourage my students to do the same.  I lay out grading criteria at the beginning of the semester, and consistently grade against that benchmark.  I do my best to establish a learning environment where we can all listen, challenge, comment, questions, and contribute. I work hard not to “mother” my students.

So what is the difference between mothering students and being concerned about them and their academic progress? It has to do with approach. Mothering often comes with a bias — a mother’s first reaction is that her child can do no wrong!  We learn to control this over the years, but bias comes with the territory.  In addition, mothering often comes with a dependency factor. From an early age, the child is dependent on its mother and father for everything.  Finally, mothering comes with a “hovering” tendency, remember the term helicopter parent? Bias, dependency, and hovering…not really behaviors I want going on in my classroom.

Since most of the classes I teach are at the undergraduate level, I find students willing to be mothered.  Those few (you know who I mean) strive to be the favored child, turn to the professor for assistance on every assignment instead of taking the lead, and ask for more hovering (“could you read my essay before I had it in?”).  Yet my goal is to help the students embrace the responsibility of being college students -budding independent scholars.  I don’t do them any favors by mothering them along the way.  I must help and encourage, yet resist the urge to take on their responsibilities.  I see the role of  professor as more mentor than mother.

The role of mothering comes natural for me, as I have been blessed to be one for over 20 years.  And as a New Adjunct professor, I’ve found it easy to fall into the mom mode.  Yet, I must learn to walk the fine line between assisting enough to ensure my students have a solid grounding, but not so much that they become dependent on me.  Will I be the Mother of the Year for my role as professor? No. Will I be a professor that challenges her students to achieve more than they thought they could?  I hope so!

About the New Adjunct: Kathy McBrayer is currently in the dissertation phase of her doctoral studies in Organization and Management at Capella University. She holds a M.Ed. from Texas Woman’s University and a B.A. in Business Management from Northwood University. Ms. McBrayer’s professional and research interestsinclude human resource issues that arise during major change initiatives, such as outsourcing and mergers and acquisitions.  Presently, Ms. McBrayer works as an adjunct instructor and manages her own consulting firm.  She enjoys cooking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

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