student advising

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CWD:
I really hate the advising aspect of teaching, mainly because I feel so ill-prepared to do it.  But also I feel like students can read a catalog just as easily as I can to figure out what they need to take.  To me, it seems like baby-sitting.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

B.F.:
I agree. If I had to choose one of my duties that I could get rid of, it would be advising.

Anonymous:
You are not alone at all! I truly believe that at its best, advising involves mentoring students to think about grad school and careers, and it also involves dealing with some of the emotional complexity of life and school.  I think it involves referring people to resources that deepen their experience on many levels. It is totally inappropriate that at so many places, faculty are relied on for making sure students enroll in the "right" courses and managing their plans of study. This feels even more absurd when there is an advising center in a school or department that insists on faculty approval and signatures when there is no reason we would or should have an opinion about much of it.  I really find it offensive to have to sign major credit overloads since I generally do not believe in them for the vast majority of students.  Much of it feels so very pointless.  I know that some readers could think it sounds like we feel it is beneath us; that is not the real point. I just do not feel I can advise someone about speech pathology classes and botany courses when those are totally not my areas.  I can encourage their school survival skills, their need to write better, etc.  I can talk to them about life/school/job balance and about how they reveal themselves to the world when applying for jobs -- i.e., picking appropriate e-mail names so they do not wind up trivializing themselves, etc.  

I do whatever I can to forge feminist pedagogy and sustained mentoring relationships and I cannot see how students are well-served by these existing bureaucratic advising systems that are overwhelmingly about pushing people and paper through in order to maximize the bottom line.

If you are in a position to do this, you should see if your department can manage hiring its own advisor(s); I have worked in places that have this and I went to a large, well-regarded university that had this in place. People trained to do explicitly this can help a great deal to absorb some of the problem.  Good luck.

E. F.:
Advising can be a pain, especially with students who seem to have less interest in their own lives than do their advisors.

However, I have found that many of my advisees need a faculty member to push through some of the inane paperwork or hammer through the bizarre drop/add requirements conjured-up by the administration. Many times, my willingness to get off of my rear-end and walk to a certain office with a student can eliminate a five-minute problem that would otherwise take the hapless student the better part of a month to resolve.

There were a few times during my college career where having that one faculty advisor who bothered to make an effort to resolve a situation or provided a good piece of advice made my academic life a little more bearable. I try to make myself that one faculty member even though I could shoot myself in the head every time a student asks me what I think his or her major should be.

An additional note: I teach at a two-year institution, and I have found that reading the catalogs of many four-year institutions is like reading every other line of Finneganís Wake and trying to arrive at any sense of intelligent design in the publication. This is even true regarding institutions with which we are supposed to have clear articulation agreements.

Sometimes the students are confused for good reason.

Cathy:
Hi CWD,
It does sometimes feel like we're just reading them the catalog, but it may help to keep in mind that they're at a pretty different spot in their careers.  I did a bunch of new student entry advising at my last institution.  This was a CC, so we had a ton of first-generation college students, who are perhaps just a little bit more prone to bafflement.  If we can make the process just a little bit less daunting, shouldn't we?

In my field (science), reading the catalog isn't going to cut it anyway.  We have issues with:
- stated pre-reqs being the barest minimum.  Sure, Biology doesn't list an English pre-req, but if your reading score is dismal, you're not going to pass Biology either until you do something about it.
- courses that are offered only once a year, with several pre-reqs before them.  A student who decides to defer their chemistry course by one quarter will actually miss the sequence and end up an entire year behind.  And a student whose placement tests show a need for 10 quarters of math may decide to defer starting it since they expect it to be hard.
- unrealistic student expectations.  They took 5 classes at once in high school, so some of them think they can do the same in college, which would put them in the ballpark of 25 credits.
- unrealistic student expectations, part 2.  Some of our students think they're super-human.  They're going to work 40 hours a week, do a significant amount of family care, and take 3 classes.  New college students don't always understand that they have to budget for studying too, not just the face-time in class.

Sure, we've put all of what I just said on paper in various places, but it's pulling teeth to get students to read the syllabus, and this is no different.  As you get to know what the issues are, you may feel better about doing advising?

The one thing that really aggravates me about entry advising is trying to put together a plan for a student who has literally zero idea what they want to do and is totally passive.  I can deal with four different ideas with radically different requirements, or the student who hasn't decided between a 2 year nursing degree and pre-med (it never ceases to surprise me that there's almost precisely zero course overlap between the two).  But what do you do when you can't even figure out if you should be putting the student in transferable courses, or a certificate program, and the student just wants you to tell them what to do?  I generally have ended up picking off courses to address deficiencies from their placement tests (which this sort of student often has in abundance) and then looking for something "interesting" to put the student into, hoping that something will capture their attention.  But I have a gut feeling (without any real data to back it up) that those students are doomed.

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