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The Adviser as Educator
What are the characteristics of an educator? For one thing, educators convey information. Therefore, educators must know their subject matter and possess effective communication skills. Good educators will guide their students through the learning process and, when possible, work to remove obstacles that impede progress. Educators, wittingly or unwittingly, become role models for their students to emulate. Finally, good educators are able to recognize appropriate and inappropriate actions within their field and, on occasion, may need to convey such judgments to their students. As an academic adviser, you are an educator in every sense of the word. Let us examine a few senses of the word “educator” to see how they apply to academic advising.
We are teachers. We must know the University's policies, rules, and institutional requirements and must be able to communicate this information to our students. We help them to choose courses and plan schedules so that they can test their interests and abilities in various academic fields and, at the same time, meet the entrance requirements to the various majors they are considering. We show them the pros and cons and the possible consequences of their decisions. We share with them the results of research that looks at, for instance, how interests, abilities, motivations, and past performance can be used to design an appropriate educational plan. In some instances we not only communicate these findings but also research them. We talk to students about why, for example, it is important for liberal artists to take science and math courses, and for science and engineering students to take social and behavioral science, humanities, and arts courses. We interpret the curriculum to students, giving the logic of it, explaining why it is the way it is. We promote the idea that learning is a lifelong proposition and that learning at the University is but one step along this journey.
We are mentors. We are guardians of our students' academic well-being. We help them decide which academic challenges to accept. We foster their academic growth. We guide them to the higher learning. We suggest late dropping courses, requesting deferred grades, withdrawing, and taking a leave of absence when such actions could prevent academic disaster. We guide them through a labyrinth of majors, options, degrees, and minors in such a way that they are able to make informed choices about their educational plans. We help them to navigate the bureaucracy of enrollment controls, general education requirements, entrance-to-major requirements, and college requirements. We are student advocates and, when appropriate, will fight to protect our students' rights.
We are exemplars. Each of us serves as a model of an educated person, whether we want to or not. We must not underestimate this role. By our words we tell our students what an educated person thinks. By our deeds we show our students how an educated person acts. What better way to instill respect for the higher learning than to show respect toward the institution of higher learning through our speech and actions? What better way to encourage our students to take the responsibility for their academic success (or failure) than for us to act responsibly when carrying out our own duties? We who are excited about the education process cannot help transmit some of that excitement to our students.
We are critics. We exercise judgment about students' actions and decisions. We convey these judgments to students as positive reinforcement or negative criticism. It is both impossible and undesirable for us to remain neutral observers of our students' academic lives. When necessary, we confront them with our opinions of their decisions, although always in a tactful manner. Tact is sometimes required to unmask a student's true motivation. Sometimes we have to ask the hard questions. For instance, are students pursuing a particular major because it is a good match with their interests and abilities or is it because they've heard that jobs are plentiful and salaries are high in that field? Sometimes we have the more pleasant duty to render praise. For example, we recognize the achievement of the student who finally reaches the 2.00 cumulative average as well as the one who routinely makes the Dean's List. As critics, we advisers make reasoned, mature judgments and communicate these to our students. In a sense, this role of making judgments is justified by the word adviser itself. It comes from Latin words that mean to see or seem to. Thus, we might say that some of our most important and needed sentences that we speak to students begin with the words “It seems to me ...”
Teacher. Mentor. Exemplar. Critic. In these roles, we academic advisers strive to cultivate the intellectual growth and moral development of our students. We take delight in their successes and grieve over their failures. We keep abreast of the latest developments in our profession. We are researchers working to expand the boundaries of academic advising knowledge. We go about our business knowing that the influence we exert on our students can be critical to their success both at the University and beyond. As defined by the roles we play, we are, in theory and practice, educators.