In my role as Director of the Writing Center and faculty member in the University Writing Program, I work closely with Notre Dame graduate students in a number of areas. Much of that work is described on paper as mentorship. For example, I am charged with serving as mentor to the graduate students I hire and train to work as writing consultants in the Writing Center. For years I have also helped orient graduate students to teach writing in the classroom by leading a “mentor group” for beginning instructors in the Writing and Rhetoric program.
But in the eight years that I’ve been at Notre Dame, I have received far more than I have given in the realm of teaching and mentorship. Each time I have a conversation with graduate students whom I am ostensibly mentoring, I find myself involved in a deeply collaborative venture that challenges my own thinking and draws me toward a more mature understanding of the nature of the work that I am doing here.
It is precisely these collaborative relationships with graduate students that have taught me the most important lessons about teaching. The insights generated in a one-hour conversation with two or three new writing teachers, the depth of honest reflection on teaching practices that plays out in a staff meeting with graduate writing consultants, the creativity in assignment design that emerges from a sharing session with first semester graduate writing instructors—these things are amazing, but they are also surprisingly typical of the experience of working with Notre Dame graduate students.
In fact, I am not alone in recognizing the many gifts these students have to offer in conversations about teaching–those “mentor groups” have recently been recast as “dialogue groups” in recognition of the truly collaborative and collegial character of our mutually enriching work. A high bar has been set—not simply by the high standards of faculty at the University, but by the deep commitment to excellence that is the hallmark of graduate students here.
This continues to amaze me and to challenge me to strive for excellence in all of my work at Notre Dame. The privilege of studying, writing, and teaching in collaboration with Notre Dame graduate students is something I will forever count as one of the greatest blessings in my life.