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Reframing What It Means to Mentor

Moving beyond traditional mentoring methods.

Throughout our lives, we encounter individuals who, knowingly or unknowingly, shape our perspectives and behaviors. These mentors, often unsung, wield significant influence over us. One’s upbringing, for example, is peppered with moments where a parent’s gait, unbeknownst to us, becomes our own. This mimetic learning, often overshadowing formal instruction, emphasizes the vast sea of influence surrounding us. But what if we could reimagine mentorship and harness its transformative power to create a stronger, more supportive community?

To do that, we first need to address a more unsettling aspect of mentorship. Within the ASL interpreting community exists a concerning sentiment: We eat our young. While this might not be exclusive to our field, the fallout is undeniable. Alarmingly high burnout rates. Professionals, still standing, bearing the scars of trauma or disillusionment. There’s a misplaced belief that by relentlessly grinding down newcomers, they emerge resilient and more adept. It’s likened to the transformative process of river stones, evolving from jagged rocks to smooth pebbles. But what if the process is so aggressive that instead of polished stones, all that remains is fragmented sand at the river’s base? There’s a blurry line between honing and debilitating.

Such treatment isn’t mentorship; it’s outright abuse—a manifestation of toxic and manipulative horizontal violence.

Erroneous justification for this behavior often stems from inadequate training, misguided precedents, or flawed rationale such as, “This approach builds resilience,” or “It expedites learning.” Let’s clarify: Being direct is not synonymous with being harsh. Sadly, I’ve witnessed instances where the mentor-mentee dynamic spirals into a distasteful act of domination, driven by misplaced authority. This is unacceptable.

So, how should effective mentorship manifest?

The foundation lies in exemplifying professionalism, which is about effort and genuine concern, not just mastering every intricacy. Emphasize both soft and hard skills.

Build and sustain trust. By actively listening, consistently engaging, and understanding their aspirations, you can truly guide mentees.

Show, don’t just tell. Provide rationale for your approaches. Encourage mentees to grapple with challenges, stepping in sparingly, just enough to maintain momentum. Think of interpreting as a muscle, honed by consistent, real-world practice.

Regular dialogues are crucial. Choose conducive environments for feedback, like a relaxed café setting. Delve into their reflection and foster introspection. Ask questions like, “How do you think you did?” and “What do you think you could have done better?” Celebrate their achievements, before offering constructive criticism to promote growth without denting confidence.

While the idea of mentorship might seem daunting to some—fearing inexperience or lack of time—it’s imperative to realize that mentorship isn’t just academia’s responsibility. If we recognize a dearth of language service professionals, by extension, there’s a mentorship deficit. Overcoming this requires cultivating a ‘mentoring spirit.’

Think holistically. Throughout life, mentors arise, guiding us in various spheres, not just professionally. It’s the same in language services. Leverage different expertise, from business acumen to linguistics. Share your strengths, be it impeccable organization or niche knowledge. A brief chat, a forum post, or sharing experiences can be invaluable. The joy you derive from helping others is an unmatched reward.

Embodying the mentoring spirit means proactively uplifting others, sharing experiences, and perpetuating growth. Let’s redefine mentorship, challenging archaic practices and embracing a holistic, everyday approach. It’s about being more than just mentors; it’s about personifying the very essence of mentorship.