What’s the Difference: Mentor vs Teacher

Film Connection mentor director producer Sean McCarthy and film student on set in desert

What’s the Difference: Mentor vs Teacher

There are a few exceptions of course, but when it comes to the traditional way of teaching, we all know the drill. There’s a teacher, professor, or instructor standing in front of the class, reading from an established lesson plan, and then tests to show how much you can remember. And, for a lot of subjects, this method makes a lot of sense.

But when it’s time to move from the Three Rs and on to something a little more creative, the traditional way of learning isn’t always the right way. Film Connection believes working one-on-one with a mentor, an established professional, gives our students the best opportunity to not only learn the industry but to find a career in film.

This isn’t to say there are some traditional aspects with our Directing, Cinematography, Editing, and Screenwriting Programs. There are still required readings, quizzes, and “homework” our students must complete but the bulk of the time you spend with our mentors isn’t spent sitting in a classroom with a bunch of other students listening to a teacher. And instead of spending one, two, or four years, our students train for just 6-9 months, then delve in to getting on projects and building their experience one project or film at a time.

It’s spent on the set, in the editing room, or on location. It’s not jockeying for the professor’s attention, it’s working in concert with your mentor. It’s not hoping you get a chance to work with the gear for a few hours a week, it’s helping set that gear up for the next shot.

The Differences Between Professors and Mentors

While there are several ways mentoring diverges from the standard way of teaching, perhaps the most important difference starts at the top. It’s important to say that many, many teachers, professors, and instructors have a passion for teaching. But for some, it was more of a fallback position for any number of reasons.

Mentors, too, have a love of teaching, but they’re able to do so from within their chosen profession. No matter if it’s an electrician working with an apprentice or a director of photography working with a Film Connection extern, the mentor is able to show real-world examples of how to work in their chosen industry.

Mentors have the experience of working on the job, are required to stay current on advances or changes within the industry, and can present in-the-moment learning opportunities. Professors or teachers just don’t have those opportunities because they aren’t in the field as often as mentors, if at all.


Mentors also have more flexibility when it comes to working with their externs. A professor or teacher needs to stick to a syllabus or lesson plan because they’re working with a larger number of students. What they teach will hopefully be relevant and at their students’ levels of knowledge since they just aren’t able to change their plans for each and every person in their class. Doing so would be impossible!

That’s just not an issue in a mentoring situation. Yes, there are guidelines and a host of lessons Film Connection mentors have access to but if you have a lot of experience with film theory or setting up for various shots (close-up, wide shot, medium shot, etc.), you and your mentor can move on to other things like script supervising, line producing, and more.

When you interview with your potential mentor you will discuss strengths, weaknesses, and what you’re hoping to get out of the program. Along with an Academic Facilitator, you’ll be able to work the curriculum to meet your needs and your schedule. Imagine trying to do that with 20 or more students and one professor!

Film Connection mentor director producer Sean McCarthy and film student on set in desert
Film Connection mentor director producer Sean McCarthy and film student on set in desert.

Real-World Learning

Film Connection believes the best way to learn about the film industry is from the inside. Because mentors are already in the field (in a manner of speaking), students are able to learn what it means to be on the set during active productions. Why be stuck in a classroom when you can be on location?

This immersive environment isn’t available to a traditional four-year university professor or trade-school instructor. Learning as part of a production crew also gives you a variety of situations to learn in and you won’t be limited to real-world equipment based on a lab sign-in sheet.

Working with several different people during your time with a mentor is par for the course with many Film Connection students. You could be following a gaffer, helping with a boom, or working directly with the director, especially if your mentor is the director. And as for the classroom, you won’t find one in our 6-9 month filmmaking programs.

Work With Updated Gear

Finally, a college classroom or lab just may not have the resources a real-world production company has to offer. Certainly, universities or colleges will differ on what they have access to, but mentors need to have the equipment, the tools of the trade to do their job. Remember–it’s their livelihood!

So instead of biding your time, waiting for your chance to play in the sandbox, the bulk of your time with a mentor will be spent getting your hands dirty. Every day is a new day to experience something new, to prove yourself to your mentor by working with equipment and adhering to the standards used in the industry today.

You don’t need to wait for a field trip, wait for a guest speaker, or wait to put what you’ve learned into practice. And you won’t be working with other students who may not be as driven as you are. Everyone on the set has already started their career. Do well and you can get the opportunity to learn from them as well.

The Film Connection has opportunities across the U.S., meaning you won’t have to fly across the country to get the education you need to break into the film industry. Whether you’re interested in directing, film production, editing, or cinematography, we’ll match you with the mentor that best suits your needs.

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