On Mentoring

Believe it or not, I had a career first this semester: a 100% plagiarized paper, down to the typos. And the student admitted it.

It would’ve been so easy to light their paper on fire and file academic misconduct papers, but instead, I asked them why they did it.

The short version: they just gave up.

The longer-ish version: we spoke for an hour, during which I asked pointed questions about their background: where did they come from? Where do they see themselves in 5-10 years? What was their plan to get there? What were their hopes, dreams, mistakes, and fears? What obstacles did they face, and how did they attempt to overcome them?

On paper, this was a plagiarism case. In person, this was a rudderless student who’s in college “just to say they did it, kept awake at night over fears of letting others down, and making a series of escalating poor choices with life-long ramifications, but who also had a journeyman-level trade credential.

I unpacked the trade credential. They loved the work! When I asked if they wanted to still do the trade, they said yes, and owning a business. When I asked why they weren’t tailoring their college experience to meet their goal of owning a trade-specific business? They didn’t have an answer. While I’m of the mindset that an enriching liberal arts education is more than a future paycheck generator, four years incur tremendous time and money commitments for which “just saying they did it” isn’t a well-thought strategy.

My decision:

1) I wouldn’t let them just give up and, in the process, light the rest of their life on fire. They rewrote their paper from a blank page and passed my course.

2) They’re following up with me in the Fall. Yes, they have an official academic advisor, but I want to see their strategy, even if it’s penciled on the back of a napkin. Mentoring includes seeing this through.

I’m hoping I made the right decision.

2 Replies to “On Mentoring”

  1. A moving story of what good teaching is about – helping people find their vocation & learn from mistakes. Thank you

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