This blog has been authored by James Derounian, NTF 2007. James provides a fascinating insight into his experiences of being mentored to achieve his own NTF, and how he now feels strongly that the NTF and CATE community has a responsibility for mentoring others.
Without Tenzing, would Hillary have ever conquered Everest? Would the Lone Ranger have beaten the baddies without Tonto? And would I have gained my National Teaching Fellowship without the help of mentors? The last question, I can at least answer! I was lucky enough to have two mentors from my university department, who were already NTFs; and without their constructively critical eye I don’t think I would have secured a National Teaching Fellowship, plus at that time the £10,000 that went with it to further my teaching and learning capabilities.
I am very much of the opinion that having negotiated the steep terrain of persuasively presenting ourselves to peer assessors, as measured against criteria, we should not only bask in the sunshine of that achievement, but pull others up behind us; to generate a sustainable escalator of teaching excellence. It’s as US President John F Kennedy famously quoted in his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. Which translates in HE/ANTF/CATE-speak to “see what you can do for teaching colleagues, not what they can do for you”! And mentoring is surely bread-and-butter for any academic worth their salt – it’s what we are supposed to do: to encourage others to understand, develop and achieve, whether they are students, friends or colleagues. A mentor, for starters, understands the shape and dimensions of the pitch that you are walking on to, as you try for a National Teaching Fellowship. Crucially, they also know the nature of the ‘game’ to be played and how best to communicate yourself and your worth to scrutineers.
In my case, one mentor advised: “You have two routes; the first is a relatively safe one whereby you present your case chronologically, sticking like glue to the assessment criteria. Or you could take a more adventurous route, by making yourself stand-out, by being different. Which approach did I take? Well let’s say my opening sentence read, “Once upon a time there was a young man….” In addition to which – and I think it was a case of contrariness on my part – I embraced the academic formula of talking about myself in the third person viz. “James found himself” …. etc. In particular I believe this device enabled me to reflect more persuasively, by putting some objectivity and distance between myself and my writing.
My mentor had, like Tenzing invited me to take a risk, knowing that he was there to stop me falling. I found it very liberating and helpful to review what I had been doing by way of teaching over the years. Somewhat, as the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, observed in 1843, “Life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards”! Or as Ken Bain – in his wonderful 2004 book “what the best college teachers do”, stated, quoting an incoming President of New York University – academics must embrace community responsibilities for the “entire enterprise of learning, scholarship and teaching”.
If you want to get involved in mentoring for the NTF or CATE award schemes, contact Julie Hulme on email@example.com and she’ll put you in touch with someone who can help. We’re particularly keen on CANTF to find mentors who can work with under-represented groups to facilitate their achievement of NTF and CATE awards.