Jordan M. Barkley, Jacksonville State University
Teaching college was supposed to be freeing and provide me with the ability to teach students who pay to be in class, who want to be in class. These are supposed to be students who are eager to soak up what I have to offer, who come to class and behave, and who are responsible. I began my higher education career as an adjunct the semester before my contract as a full-time assistant professor began. As I watched my soon-to-be colleagues manage teaching responsibilities, committee assignments, and advising sessions, I became more and more eager to begin working with students. My first semester began, and I realized that my doctoral work had prepared me to teach, but nothing prepared me for academic advising – not even my own experience on the other side of the desk. What I had imagined would be the easiest part of my job became both one of the most challenging and most rewarding.
I vowed that I would do everything that I could to ensure that my advisees received the best advice possible; after all, had I not just completed work on a terminal degree? And, I detested nothing more than receiving incorrect information or no information at all. I set out to find out how to be the best advisor I could be for my students. I wanted to give them the most up-to-date information; I wanted to be able to answer their hard questions; and most of all, I wanted to have them leave my office being grateful for all I had done for them. I knew I was a good teacher, and I also knew that I could not have become who I was without the help of others. Since my university does not assign new faculty members a mentor, I decided to choose a model from whom I could learn. I began by holding secret 'interviews' – secretive because my colleagues were not aware that they were being interviewed for the role of model. I sat in as they advised students in their content areas, and I listened as they discussed course options, grades, etc. I watched both their facial expressions and the facial expressions of their advisees. Quickly, I realized that the only way I could have the perfect model would be to melt my colleagues into one super advisor. I cut my losses and chose one, unbeknownst to her.
Once I had chosen a model, I attempted to absorb as much about advising from her as I could. From our chats, I found that one important key to successful advising is keeping detailed records. While our college recognizes several methods of advising – traditional paper advising, email advising, advising with electronic folders, etc. – no matter which method an advisor chooses to use, records are crucial. Through conversations with other faculty members, I heard what may be deemed as higher ed urban legends, such as the ones about “the student who sued because she couldn't student teach when she was ‘supposed’ to,” or (my personal favorite) “the student who forces the administration’s hand in course substitutions because of what an advisor said.” Whether or not these are real stories, the fact remains that successful advisors who keep detailed records can often immediately reply to faulty complaints by students who insist that they have been misadvised. I found that while detailed notes did serve as protection against confusion, these notes more importantly helped to jog my memory about each student’s individual situation as he or she came in for advisement.
Detailed records, however, were not enough to provide students with all of the information they would need to complete an academic program. I noticed that the majority of my students came to advisement without even drafting a possible schedule. How was I supposed to advise students who hadn't even thought out their own programs? The teacher in me kicked in and helped me realize that I could teach these students to care about their programs, but first, I would have to learn everything I could about the degree program. I gathered that if my advisees didn't think that I could answer their questions, they would not come to my office with questions. And, if I could get them to return to my office for more than just being cleared for registration, I could possibly build a relationship with them and keep them from making more than just mistakes with courses. Ultimately, I immersed myself in the program. I talked with our Teacher Service Center, faculty in arts and sciences who taught the courses my students would need, and most importantly, students nearing graduation so that I could get a student’s perspective of the obstacles encountered while attempting to complete the program. And, I have to admit that when students asked what many would consider hard questions and I could provide an answer, I began to feel like a successful advisor.
I felt successful, but I noticed that I still had two major problems: saying “No' and helping students accept responsibility for their actions. I maintain that my job is to do everything within my power to help students complete their programs, but I had a hard time saying “No” to my students. I found myself advising after hours, making phone calls for students, emailing for students, and asking all the “hard” questions for my students. Sure, these are things that advisors sometimes do, but I was doing them on a regular basis. Learning to say, “No,” though, for me was like breaking an addiction. The first five to ten times were excruciatingly painful, and I felt as though I was not doing my job. That feeling passed as I saw that when I did not do everything for my students, they began to do for themselves. Next, I had to help them accept responsibility for what they did. I’m sure that every academic advisor could fill a book with reasons “why” students did not drop a class, did not attend class, did not…well, practically anything on campus. I found that the best way to help my advisees accept responsibility was to stop them when they began to make excuses. Once they realized that I was not condemning them for what they had or had not done, they tended to open up more and help me help them. I began to enjoy my advisement sessions; I had to rely less and less on the detailed information in the folders to remember my students; and I found myself making more and more time for my advisement sessions.
Now that I enjoy advising, I don’t look at academic advising as something else I have to do other than teaching; I see advising as an equal to classroom instruction. I have signed on to be a part of my university’s summer orientation seminars for both in-coming freshmen and transfer students, and I also spend a good amount of time discussing with colleagues how we can improve our advising procedures. Just as I constantly seek ways to develop my teaching abilities professionally, I now spend an equal amount of time honing my advising abilities. Ultimately, I am making this program my own!
Jordan M. Barkley
Jacksonville State University
Cite this article using APA style as: Barkley, J. (2006, June). From student to advisor: Making the transition from college graduate to advisor or college students. Academic Advising Today, 29(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]