Am I a Teacher, Trainer or Mentor?

Teacher. Trainer. Mentor. Are these all the same thing? Is the difference between them negligible? As a writing coach, I’m learning that choosing the right word is essential if I’m going to find my “ideal” audience.

As someone who worked in education for nearly two decades, I identify strongly with the role of teacher. In fact, I played “school” as a child, as eager to be the teacher as I was to be the student. Still. I consider myself a life-long learner.

It’s interesting to note that if you visit a popular online thesaurus, both mentor and trainer show up as synonyms for teacher. Are they interchangeable?

I must discover the answer. Because while writers might want a writing coach, most of them balk at the thought of a writing teacher or writing craft trainer. My experience has taught me that most don’t understand what a mentor is, so they don’t connect with a coach that claims to be a writing mentor.

Coach as Trainer

My sister has been a swimming coach for a long time. Part of her job is directing her athletes in their training.

But when we think of a writing coach, we might wonder, how could they be a trainer?

A trainer is a person who instructs someone to be proficient in some art, profession or work. A writing coach should be a trainer because their goal should be to see their client proficient in writing.

In fact, I imagine celebrating my client’s success when she finishes her novel and lands a literary agent and book contract.

It would be like coaching a swimmer to the Olympic Games!

Since I do give assignments to be completed between sessions, I see the teaching and training aspect of my coaching. Again, I don’t know if writers looking for someone to coach them through their struggles would be drawn to advertisements or graphics that talked about getting a personal writing trainer.

Coach as Mentor

According to dictionary.com, a mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

Many writers might accept that they could use someone wiser to counsel them in the nuances of the publishing industry. However, I’ve only been around the coaching end of the industry for a short time and I’ve already heard horror stories about writing coaches who tried to conform their coachees into mini-mes.

Nope. That’s not what a counselor does. Or a teacher. Not a good one anyway.

The caring counselor listens more than she talks. She asks leading questions that help the client stumble onto the answers on their own.

In fact, the best way to get someone excited about something is to make them think it was all their idea. Not saying counselors manipulate people, but experience has taught them how to keep asking questions while never giving answers.

Writing is an act of discovery, and part of the journey involves self-discovery.

However, a mentor has wisdom because they’re further along the same path. A good mentor will offer insights in a way that illuminate the path at their mentee’s feet rather than takes hold of their feet and march them along, like some sort of strange puppet master. (Yes, I’m envisioning a scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

A writing coach might be a mentor if they’re also a writer. However, I think there are some writing coaches who don’t write. This doesn’t make them less effective coaches, but they can’t truly offer mentorship since they aren’t further along the writing path.

Which of these would you want in a coach: teacher, trainer or mentor? How would you define a coaching role without using these terms?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.