#ELTmentor (to Anna)

It seems Anna’s just the spark these days! OK, so Anna Loseva’s latest blog post is about mentoring. She writes:

“Because I want and feel the need to support and listen and help to reflect, I want to have more clarity on what mentoring is or can be. On what a mentor is and what the relationship involves. On how it starts and if it ever finishes. On how it’s organized…I think stories that I’m sure other people have might be just what I need to get that clarity…
…so, do you have any #ELTmentor stories? Successful or not so much, stories where you were the mentor or the mentee, for a specific period of time, project or otherwise. I hope you can share some of your stories with me – and anyone else who is interested – in the comments to this post, in the comments on Facebook, or on your own blog”.

I honestly don’t have the time/energy/memory juice to do a lot of involved “storytelling” on this great topic and I don’t have anything particularly smart to say about it but I did want to respond in some way. So here are some initial and rather general and sketchy thoughts along with a little glimpse into one specific instance of mentoring from my personal experience (the latter shared via the words of my mentee).

Hmm. It’s easy to see how mentoring is baked into the cake of being a teacher trainer. In this respect, I’ve been a ‘mentor’ for a handful of years working as a CELTA tutor. But I’m thinking right now about how mentoring is ‘baked into the blood’ of being a teacher. Whereas students generally function in groups, teachers do individually. But this is only seeming, only at the surface level. This is what we see just looking through a window into the classroom: any number of students, only one teacher together in Room 6. However, if we were able to look into the heart and mind of the teacher-in-action, or if we went in and listened very, very carefully…things might appear different. Then, we’d see how the teacher thinks and acts out of a space beyond an individual self. We might see how the teacher’s decisions and actions are guided by all of their own teachers and by all of their teacher trainers and educators. Not to mention (ideally) the learners they’re engaged with presently. As teachers we are a kind of holographic personification of a potentially quite large group beyond ourselves; from this perspective teaching is much about being a colleague as it is about being an instructor; it’s as horizontal (and diagonal?) as it is vertical. A horizon filled with the influence of parent-mentors, peer-mentors, trainer-mentors, mentor-mentors. From this perspective, the statement “whereas students generally function in groups, teachers do individually” can be seen as pretty superficial.

Those are my quick-jot thoughts. Now onto an account of mentoring from July of 2012. I am posting the text from a sort of ‘testimonial’ written for/about me back then. It describes how I mentored the writer.

“I cannot begin to tell you how helpful Matt was to me. Since his office was just outside my classroom, when my class was over he would sit down with me and critique my lesson as well as my interactions with the students. While he gave me positive feedback and praised my engagement with the students, he also pointed out areas where I could improve. I found his analyses to be invaluable.

When I would work on my lesson plans prior to class, I would enlist Matt’s help. He was always willing to sit down with me and go over my lesson plans. He once spent three hours with me going over one lesson plan pointing out in detail how I should approach it with the students also pointing out how I should work with them on pronunciation and repetition. He further assisted me by introducing me to several excellent ESL teacher Web sites where I found a wealth of worksheets and approaches.

He taught me that the classroom should be 80 percent student-focused and 20 percent directed by the teacher. Consequently, I arranged lessons where the students would be talking to one another employing whatever the concept for the class was (present tense, past tense, comparatives, etc.). The students enjoyed the classes; attendance was good throughout the semester; and I believe they learned a great deal”

The one comment I’d like to add here is that sometimes you can just sense that you are the person another person needs, just as you might sense that another person is the person you need. This was one of those times. Her class was indeed right next to my office (at an ESOL program in Salem, MA…I was a student counselor on top of teaching English) and I could hear the entire thing really well. This meant that I learned a lot about who/how she was as a teacher before too long. And in our early casual conversations, I kept noticing that she was reaching for understandings I was in a good position to help her grasp, or at least keep reaching in a healthy and productive way. So that’s what happened. As similar things happened before in a different times and places…with me in her position. Perhaps I’d say – to wrap up and try to offer something concrete here –  that when it comes to mentoring, don’t be timid. Go for it. There are so many good reasons why mentoring activity should be increased in teaching. And the reasons not to? Rife with pretensions and shallow fears.

I’d also like to just add Sarah Priestley’s talk here and this book to the list of potentially interesting and/or helpful resources on the topic…and I’m hoping the muses will bring another, different type of response to share soon.

PS – I see my whole online PLN as a community of peer-mentors.

PPS – I was so happy to meet Anna, one of these peer-mentors, in person recently! 🙂

PPPS – Back to single paragraphs tomorrow…;P

 

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