Image courtesy of Christoph Rupprecht
Today marks the beginning of another week of TESL practicum observations for me. While I have enjoyed watching these new ESL teachers starting off their journey, I have to say I am a getting a bit tired. I realize that this is an important step for these trainees, but I feel like this is taking a whole lot more out of me than I had anticipated. It is funny considering that I’m not the one doing the lesson preparation and having to teach the class. I am not entirely sure why it takes so much of my energy, but I think I have a partial reason. I think it is because I care about helping them.
Long ago, I was in their shoes. I remember being that energetic, enthusiastic, nervous-to-the-core, rough-around-the-edges teacher in training. I distinctly remember the disaster of my first class and the not-so-interesting second class. But what I remember the most was the support I received from my TESL instructor, Gail Tiessen. I am so thankful for her. She was kind, firm, direct, and quick to help. Her comments kept me going, thinking, and improving. I am happy to still call her my mentor.
Yesterday, I was in church and the pastor was using the analogy of a pair of oxen being yoked together to work the fields. These oxen would not be able to finish the work on their own. Also, young oxen might not know what is expected of them without the support and guidance of the more experienced oxen by their side. The yoke isn’t there to punish them, or to say they can’t do it, it is there to give them support and guidance.
This analogy got me thinking about how we support and mentor those who don’t have the same amount of experience as ourselves. Other than a brand-new teacher, there is always going to be someone who is less experienced than you are. This is an opportunity to help them by being their mentor. The Ontario Ministry of Education has put out a handbook for mentors. In the introduction, I found this quote:
We don’t learn to teach. Rather, we learn from our teaching. As teachers, we continue to refine our expertise and expand our knowledge through professional relationships and conversations with colleagues, and through applying and adapting information and strategies within the context of our own classrooms.
Too often, we get through our training and are set loose in the classroom. Teaching is a bit of an interesting profession in that we play out the majority of our work in separation from our colleagues. Sure, we have the staff room, PD session and observations, but our end result is rarely seen by those we work with. I believe mentoring should be a part of every workplace, but I think it most needed in teaching.
So, why should we become mentors? It seems on the surface that mentoring is fairly one-way, but that is not what the research says. I found an excellent article from Yuly Asención Delaney (2012) called Research on Mentoring Language Teachers: Its Role in Language Education. Asención Delaney analyzes the most recent research on mentoring in language teaching and pulls out the salient points. Here are some things that struck me while reading it:
“[M]entoring is believed to contribute to both the professional development of experienced teachers and the formation of professional networks among teachers.”
“Mentors grow by talking about teaching with their mentees, participating in mentor training, self-reflecting through action research and class observation, and learning new instructional techniques.”
“Mentoring relationships also lead to increased collaboration and collegiality among teachers by fostering a culture of professional support.”
“[M]entoring is considered a good way to introduce positive change into educational programs.”
Coming back to my observations this week, I think the real reason I get so tired is that I am constantly thinking about what is being done, how effective that is, and how this compares to what I believe to be important. I then reflect on how I do things and whether or not my beliefs are matching to what I do in order to provide examples for the new teacher. I then consider how I can make changes to match my teaching to my philosophy of learning. And to think I thought it was just about observing a new teacher.
I would suggest reading over these two documents and think about how you can get involved in mentoring. Please share your mentoring experiences with us by adding a comment below or sending me tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you.
Asención Delaney, Y. (2012). Research on mentoring language teachers: Its role in language education. Foreign Language Annals, 45(1). 184-202. doi: 10.1111/j.1944-9720.2011.01185.x
A resource handbook for mentors. (2010). Ontario Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teacher/ntipmentor.pdf