What is the definition of mentorship or mentoring?

In 2008, Wikipedia defined “mentorship” as a developmental relationship between a more experienced mentor and a less experienced partner, referred to as a mentee or protégé. The mentee is guided and protected by a more prominent person, the mentor. 
However, for those of you who are interested in etymology, the term “mentorship” originates from the time of Odysseus. Odysseus entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, to his wise and trusted counselor, Mentor.  Mentor’s name has been passed down in our language as synonymous with the terms “wise,” “trusted,” “counselor,” and “teacher.”

I often see the terms “mentee” and “protégé” used interchangeably.  Is there a difference between the terms?

In addition, you will also see such terms as “apprentice,” “intern,” or “novice” used within the context of mentoring. Some individuals feel that the word “mentee” is not a recognized English word and so choose to use the word “protégé” to describe the individual seeking to formally enhance their skills.  According to NCIEC survey results, though, the vast majority of respondents prefer the term “mentee.”

What is the difference between “tutoring” and “mentoring?”

You will often see these terms used interchangeably. However for purposes of this discussion, NCIEC delineates the act of “tutoring” as one that occurs as part of a student’s post secondary experience, while “mentoring” occurs outside of the post secondary experience, most often after graduation and while employed as an interpreter.

What does “effective practices” mean?

Effective practices is a common, yet often misunderstood, term.  To aid in understanding the NCIEC Mentoring initiative, the work-team defines some common related terminology in the following ways:

  • Current Practice (also referred to as Common or Standard Practice): A practice currently being employed by individuals, entities or institutions.
  • Best Practice: A practice that demonstrates some level of proven research-verified/ based effectiveness.  This demonstration may take the form of an accepted publication or one that is recognized and followed by exemplary institutions.
  • Effective Practice: A practice that has undergone the rigors of evaluation and is verified by research as yielding target outcomes.

What formats are used in mentorships?

Generally speaking, there are three formats used in the mentorship experience:  1) one-to-one, face-to-face mentorships; 2) small group mentorships; and 3) online distance and blended mentorships.

One-to-one mentorships work especially well for highly motivated interpreters at the pre-certification stage or for the seasoned interpreter seeking to focus on such specialized areas as legal, medical, or mental health interpreting.

Small group mentorships include one mentor working with 2-8 mentees (mentorship students) are good for individuals with similar skill levels and goals for upgrading.

What types of mentorships are most common?

The three most common types of mentorships include the following:

  • Practitioner to Practitioner: A more experienced interpreter, one with several years of direct work experience and top-level certification, provides trusted guidance and a shared experience with a less experienced interpreter.  This duo may involve two hearing interpreters, two deaf interpreters or one deaf and one hearing interpreter.
  • ASL specialists, and sign language/culture guides: These individuals, almost always deaf, provide trusted guidance and a shared experience with a less experienced interpreter.  However, this category of mentors focuses on the language and culture of the Deaf Community rather than the interpreting process.
  • Specialty areas or specialty skills: These mentorship experiences are not unlike a traditional “practitioner to practitioner” experience.  However this category of mentorship goes outside the conventional processes into such areas as tri-lingual interpreting, tactile interpreting, and the highly specialized areas of legal and medical interpreting.

What qualification or skills should I look for in a mentor?

Among many other qualifications, mentors should possess the following minimum professional skill levels:

Interpreting mentors should have several years of paid professional experience, hold high level certification, and have completed some level of mentor training by a recognized training entity. They must also have an active interest in current issues and literature in the interpreting field.

ASL specialists should be native signers, have several years of experience working directly with ASL, hold ASLTA certification and demonstrate an active interest in the field of ASL, staying current with new developments in the field (e.g. through literature, workshops, etc.).

Deaf language/culture guides should be active in the Deaf community, fluent in sign language, and knowledgeable of Deaf culture. They must be supportive of hearing interpreters and able to guide them toward appropriate behavior and signing. In addition to professional signing and interpreting skills, the ability to articulate the interpreting process and the time to participate in a mentoring experience of scope and sequence, mentors should also possess the following qualities:

  • High standard – commitment to excellence
  • Proven expertise
  • Respect for the abilities of others
  • Commitment to shared learning
  • Willingness to be an advocate and supporter
  • Trustworthiness
  • Care and empathy
  • Effective communication skills
  • Creativity and openness
  • Self-confidence and ability to affirm others
  • Positive attitude
  • Flexibility
  • Ethical behavior

Or, in the words of Odysseus, a mentor must be a wise, trusted counselor or teacher.

How long are mentorships and what type of activities should I expect?

It is widely accepted that for change to occur, the experiences leading to that change must have scope and sequence, or in other words, they must occur over time.  In a survey of current mentorship programs, an average of eight to ten sessions was most common. NCIEC recommends that, in most instances, mentors and mentees commit to no less than 10 working sessions. The topics, methods, and activities that occur within a mentorship vary, depending on the mentee’s needs and the mentor’s expertise. However, every good mentorship is intense, and every good mentorship program or experience should have most, if not all, of the following elements:

  • Pre-Mentorship self assessment by the mentee
  • Development and/or execution of an agreement between the mentor and the mentee
  • Ongoing mentoring sessions that may include but not necessarily be limited to such activities as portfolio development, ongoing assessment of skills by mentee, identification of patterns, determination of Root Causes and use of skill-enhancement activities
  • Observations by mentor and mentee
  • Team interpreting of mentor and mentee
  • Homework and keeping of mentee journal
  • Academic reading
  • Diagnostic assessment (in some instances)
  • Post-Mentorship self assessment by the mentee
  • Pre- and post-evaluation surveys
  • Personal exit interview

Where do mentorships typically occur?

Mentorships can occur at almost any quiet, more private location.  The logistics of a mentorship are usually worked out between the Mentor Interpreter and the Mentee Interpreter.  If agreeable to both (or all in a small group mentorship setting), mentorships can occur at one’s home, workplace or educational institution.  In some cases when distance makes face-to-face meetings impossible, mentors and mentees share videos of interpreting production, communicate and share data electronically, and use the telephone to make a mentorship happen.

How much do mentorships cost?

In almost all cases, there is a fee for a mentorship experience.  The fee can range from as little as $10/hour to fees more in line with the mentor interpreter’s interpreter fees.  In some cases, an interpreter will charge little or no expense only to a special mentee as a means of giving back to the community.  However, everyone recognizes that time spent mentoring is time taken away from other paid employment.  Unless you are involved with a structured mentorship program, the mentorship fee is often negotiated between the two participating parties.

Am I eligible for a mentorship experience as a mentee while I am still enrolled in an interpreter preparation program?

Mentorship requirements vary from program to program and from mentor to mentor.  However, NCIEC defines  “mentoring” as occurring outside of post secondary experience, most often after graduation and while employed as an interpreter.

What qualifications should a mentee bring to a mentorship experience?

Most interpreting mentees are working interpreters who wish to upgrade or maintain their language or interpreting skills, or learn more about a specialized area of interpreting. All must be highly motivated and conscientious in attending sessions and completing outside assignments.  They must be open to learning and willing to face change, commit to participate in a mentoring experience of scope and sequence, and have the financial resources to support it.