How mentoring helped me become an effective teacher today

Camila

Camila Lucchesi , English Teacher/Teacher-in-charge at Minds English School, São Paulo, Brazil

My first mentor was my mom. She taught me things ranging from the letters of the alphabet to how to look at complex issues in the world. She taught me that even with a simple action, you can open the skies to a person, if you know how. Inspired by my mother, when I was six, I decided to be a teacher. I told everybody that I would be that girl, like my mom, who would open people’s mind to new worlds and make them achieve their dreams.

My first teaching in a real class was when I was 17. I had no idea about what I was doing or how it was supposed to be done. I just knew that it was my dream coming true.

My mentor, amazing teacher with all the background of big teachers, sat in front of me. After the class he had watched in silence, he looked into my eyes and said:

“You know, you are the worst teacher I´ve ever met. You are terrible. You can´t teach this way, because to be a teacher, you have to be the best. Nothing more, but nothing less than the best.”

I remember the taste of the tears coming down my face while he pointed all my mistakes and when he stopped, I did not know what I was doing there.

“Do you really want to be a teacher?” he asked me, and I just nodded.

“So I will teach you. Call me your mentor for now, but don’t expect me to be your daddy or anything like that.” And then he stood up, went to the board and taught me the class, the same that I didn’t know how to teach.

First thing I learned that day: being a mentor is speaking the reality no matter how hard it is. Because you are just going to learn if someone tells you how to do it right or show you how to start that. If you don´t tell the truth, you are just creating a little monster who will never be able to listen and improve.

Second thing I learned that day: there is nothing more important than a feedback, especially when it is  given by a person who is interested in your improvement. Only when you can get better people are going to share their time and experiences with you; otherwise, what´s the point? And, when you give feedback, always come up with solutions to the problems you see. If you don´t know how to solve it, take notes, search for the solutions and just then tell the person. Trust me, it´s much better if you do this way.

Third, it doesn´t matter who you are, but if you mentor someone well, you could be like a God to them. They are going to look at you waiting to learn more. You are the example. They watch your classes, don´t accept less than the best from you. And that´s a good thing. I used to not care about myself before being a mentor, but now I see that there is more to be shared than just feedback. You have to be hardworking, committed to the person you mentor, giving your best support.

With my mentees, I learnt stories of improvement, challenges and successes. I could share with them stories of people who came from nowhere and became the best in their areas. I could see people struggling to be better, fighting for a better future. Sometimes, I became a absorbed their excitement and strength to improve and cheer  myself up.

It doesn´t matter who you mentor, you learn more than you share. I remember once when I mentored a teacher who didn´t have had any experience before, and he made so many questions that I got dizzy. Just few days later, he asked to watch his class just to show me how he improved. And actually, I got surprised with how far he had got.

I remember how many times mentees come to me sharing their lives´ stories, or their problems, or just to talk about their future plans and dreams. They always become mentors´ inspiration to succeed and get better every time.

I think being a mentor is sharing whatever you have, but it´s also improving yourself. As for me, I became the mentor I would like to have, plus the person people expected me to be. As a mentee, I could learn how to listen to people. I learnt that a person interested on you is going to help you no matter what. I learnt that being the person people expect you to be is not so easy, and teaching is a complicated science that you are going to spend your whole life to master it.

As a mentor, I learnt that it does not matter how good you are, there is always a challenge expecting you somewhere. I learnt that people are different, but you are just yourself, and there are many ways of helping others. And I learnt that there is nothing more beautiful, exciting and rewarding than the sparkle in someone’s eyes when they are under your mentoring, getting the opportunity and support for them to continue to improve.

Welcome to September Issue of ELT Choutari

Mentoring Special

Editorial: 

The Choutari Team is delighted to greet you with the September issue of ELT Choutari! This issue is focused on mentoring, which  has remained one of the core values of Choutari since its inception.  We began the Choutari Mentoring Project (CMP) as a new initiative  to enhance a collaborative learning environment among our readers seven months ago. We are excited to receive love and feedback from the students, teachers, and professionals in Nepal. The continual academic support from both the  international and local community of ELT/Applied Linguistic scholars has further encouraged us to develop other news projects in future. We are glad that many of our colleagues are enjoying the benefits of the mentoring project. We would like to thank you all who signed up and participated in this project. In the meantime, we have also received much feedback from those engaged currently in the mentoring relations. We are encouraged by your feedback and do look forward to making this project even more accessible and productive in the days to come.

The September issue of ELT Choutari was originally planned to be a forum to celebrate the mentoring relations and to formally recognize our mentors and mentees contributing to the project. However, based on the feedback we received, and with due respect to the contextual ramifications, we have decided to maintain confidentiality of the participating mentors and mentees. This has been an important learning experience from the critical mass of participants, and we are determined to move ahead with a giving spirit to our field.

This issue of ELT Choutari, however, has come out to be a special one for a special reason. We have posts from Choutari’s key personalities including founding members and past editors. We have an interview with two successful Nepali ELT mentors Ganga Ram Gautam, Reader at  Tribhuvan University, and Laxman Gnawali, PhD, Associate Professor at Kathmandu University, focused on mentoring. Their mentoring stories not only unveil mentoring culture in Nepal, but also present existing perception and attitude toward this in our context.

In the second reflective blog entitled “This is How Mentoring Worked for Me,” Bal Krishna Sharma shares his personal learning experiences from the mentoring activities — both as a mentee and as a mentor. Bal has included the names of his mentor (Elaina) and mentee (Tankia) in his story to give a real story that gives insight into how those relations are developed and sustained. Moreover, this sets a great example of how one individual can benefit from both roles.

Sajan Kumar’s take on mentoring is highly philosophical in third blog entry-“You are, therefore I am: Reciprocity, Metamorphosis, Mentorship and Beyond.” Here Sajan shares a model of mentoring that describes the mentoring process as a cyclical developmental and growth involving contemplation, meditation, mediation, and action — all converging into a transformative process. Sajan describes his mentoring journey stemming out of his intimate collaboration with his guru and the quality time he had with him during his stay at Kirtipur but then goes on to add a theoretical dimension arguing that the whole biosphere may act as the mentor for an explorer of self, such as Sajan himself. His conclusion is powerful: “One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil”

Prem Phyak in the fourth blog post “Not a fix-it shop: Making mentoring productive”  is full of practical insights. Prem has offered some strategies that can be helpful to make mentoring more productive and goal-oriented. Drawing on his own experience working as a writing consultant/tutor for the Writing Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for two years, Prem’s post focuses on how to make mentoring more interactive, grounded/bottom-up, and collaborative rather than top-down and authoritative.

The fifth blog entry ‘Bal Ram Adhikari’s Sharing, Caring and Daring in Mentoring’ is a remarkable story of transformation whereby the writer finds himself as a deliverer of something that he had been longed for in the beginning of his teaching career. Adhikari’s experience paints a not-so-good-picture of mentoring in the context of Nepal, but is an eye opener. Having witnessed and been trampled by the “lopsided” practice of power, dominance, and authority, Adhikari’s writing is a call for an action toward a truer mentoring regime in Nepal’s ELT sector.

Finally, we have a photo blog that covers the news from Choutari’s monthly writing workshop facilitated by Hem Raj Kafle, one of founding editors of Choutari.

Here is the list of articles we have included for September Issue, especially focused on mentoring in ELT:

  1. ELT Chat with Nepali Mentors on Mentoring, by Praveen K Yadav  
  2. This is How Mentoring Worked for Me, by Bal Krishna Sharma
  3. You are, therefore I am, by Sajan Kumar
  4. Not a fix-it shop: Making mentoring productive, by Prem Phyak
  5.  Sharing, Caring and Daring in Mentoring, by Bal Ram Adhikari
  6. Choutari Writing Workshop #3: Photoblog, by Choutari Team

Together, these stories, coming straight out of the experiences of successful people in the field, serve as models to be built on. As can be seen, these stories reveal that mentoring is not about following prescriptive norms and rules — it is largely shaped by what goal, passion, philosophy and background that mentors and mentees share with each other. I believe that these stories are my stories, your stories, and everyone’s stories.

Uttam

Uttam Gaulee Editor, September 2014

P.S.: I would like to urge all our valued readers and contributors to please share these stories among your social network and leave comments.

Enjoy the readings!

ELT Chat with Nepali Mentors on Mentoring

Praveen Kumar Yadav, team coordinator for ELT Choutari, had a chit-chat with successful Nepali ELT mentors, Ganga Ram Gautam, Reader in English Education at Tribhuvan University and Dr Laxman Gnawali, Associate Professor at Kathmandu University School of Education, who are not only involved in English Language Teaching, but they has also been mentoring ELT practitioners over one and a half decade. This chat with the ELT mentors and experts delves into the tradition, practice cultural variations, and existing perception and attitude toward mentoring with reference to their own mentoring experience. Please enjoy this insightful conversation with these experts.

Choutari: Could you please briefly talk about mentorship culture in Nepalese context? How do students and teachers in Nepal perceive mentoring?

Gautam:

Gautam, Ganga - Nepal (2) (1)

Ganga Ram Gautam, Reader in ELT Tribhuvan University, Nepal

 

Mentorship is not a new concept in Nepal. Mentorship was an excellent way of building capacity of a person in the Gurukul education system and it continued for a long time in the tradition. Similarly, helping the young ones by the senior was in-built in our cultural system and the metaphor that we often used for mentorship is पन्थेदाउने which means training the novice person by engaging them in the work under the supervision of the seniors.

Currently, the western education system gave it a new name and it is being discussed in the education discourse. Informally, mentoring is there but at the formal level, it is not very widely used.
Gnawali: 

Laxman Gnawali, PhD                                            Associate Professor (ELT)                          Kathmandu University  School of Education

Laxman Gnawali, PhD, Associate Professor (ELT) Kathmandu University School of Education

Nepalese society had a tradition of mentoring model of education and training until the modern schooling system started for the public in the 1950s. Whether it was about the skills of family occupation and family crafts or the art of war, the experienced ones used to pass down the skills to the young generation by way of mentoring. Take for example a daughter learning to weave paddy straw mat or a tailor’s a children learning to stitch clothes or a priest’s son learning to perform rituals or a young prince learning the tactics of rule. In all cases, the knowledge transfer took place in the mentoring model. Later, the modern schooling system introduced mass education and the mentoring was no longer practicable for most trades. The teaching and learning now embraced cascade model.

From my interactions with the teachers and students, I have gathered that mentoring is not a common practice in the formal education. Though the traditional skills transfer still continues in the mentoring model, stakeholders of the mainstream education are happy to see the cascade model of knowledge transfer function. Ironically, teacher education in which mentoring model would make a difference follows a straight cascade model except in a very few cases.

Choutari: Kindly share with Choutari readers any of your mentoring experience (as a mentee) that you think has added values to your life.

Continue reading »

This is how mentoring worked for me

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Bal Krishna Sharma,   PhD Scholar   University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

I went to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Hawaii in 2008. Since I was in a new academic environment, any academic help extended to me would be tremendously helpful. I first had little idea on how the US academic system would work, for example, choosing academic advisers, completing assignments, presenting at conferences, finding and using scholarly resources and connecting to the local ELT professional venues. Thanks to the East-West Center, my scholarship sponsor organization, that connected me to an experienced and very helpful mentor, Elaina. Also thanks to the Second Language Studies Students’ Association that provided me an opportunity to work as a mentor for a BA student. In the following sections, I will briefly describe my experience and learning opportunities from these mentoring programs.

Being a Mentee

The East-West Center Alumni Association asked me to fill out a mentoring form providing details of my academic and professional background, academic interest and my expectations from my mentor. However, I had little idea regarding how this would work and help with my graduate studies at the university. I thought at least I would have an opportunity to connect to an ‘American’ professor. The alumni association also asked the potential mentors to fill out similar forms. By matching common interests between the two parties, I was assigned to a mentor at a local community college. I was excited. I wrote my mentor an introductory email and told her that I was her mentee and wanted to know who she was. Elaina took me to an Indian restaurant for dinner for our first meeting. We chatted about our personal and academic interests, family background and future goals. Continue reading »

You are, therefore I am

Reciprocity, metamorphosis, mentorship and beyond         

Sajan Kumar

‘I think, therefore I am’, declared Descartes. And I thought the same; I taught the same. You thought, therefore you were. They thought, therefore they were. Nevertheless I have been very inconsistent and unpredictable a man throughout. As time grew, I began to feel entrapped and suffocated; I could not continue to dwell in the same box and I flew away. Afterwards, I disassociated myself from Descartes and many more like him. I had been solid all along; I was liquid now. Snow must melt someday.

joint pic

Sajan Kumar                   Dr Govinda Raj Bhattarai

The story goes like this in brief. With Descartes and his ‘cogito, ergo sum’, it was thinking that ensured my existence in the world I dwelled and played my part in. I existed only because I thought. Anybody existed because they thought. Thinking was the basis for any relationship that I was in, that I wanted to be in. Everything else felt petty; everybody else felt mediocre. I had been a body all along and I was a mind now. Of the three metamorphoses that Nietzsche in his magnum opus ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra, designate of the spirit, hopefully it was one: the camel had turned into a lion. Naturally, the lion felt euphoric about the accomplishment after struggles. However, the lion still lived in an enclosure for his world was private and compartmentalized. Like a chariot horse; he could neither see left nor right but merely straight. Descartes solipsism had led him into such a cage where he saw, heard, felt, touched and smelt with mind alone. Not only that he contemplated with mind but he meditated and mediated with mind/s alone. Perhaps, he had unknowingly obliterated that he possessed a beautiful body too and the body housed a self too. His disillusionment came to an end only when he was stuck on the middle floor and out of blue regained memory of where he came from and also visualized where he was destined for.

Continue reading »

Not a fix-it shop: Making mentoring productive

Prem Phyak, PhD Scholar  in Second Lang. Studies, University of Hawaii, USA

In this blog post I discuss some strategies that can be helpful to make mentoring more productive and goal-oriented. Drawing on my own experience working as a writing consultant/tutor for the Writing Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for two years, this post focuses on how to make mentoring more interactive, grounded/bottom-up, and collaborative rather than top-down and authoritative.

Starting the conversation

One undergraduate student came to the Writing Center and asked whether I could help him. “Yes, I am available now”, I said. After we introduced to each other, I asked what his problem was. He said, “I want to write a research paper for my political science class. But I am struggling to identify a topic. I am worried because the assignment is due next week.” His face was telling me that he was procrastinating and finding no way to move forward.” 

First, I was perplexed how I could help him as he was not sure what he was going to write about. Second, I was not sure what the student was expected to write in his  research paper. I began our mentoring session by telling him that every student faces the same problem. I gave my own example; I quite often do not know what I am going to write in the early stage of my writing projects. Continue reading »

Sharing, Caring and Daring in Mentoring

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Bal Ram Adhikari Editor, ELT Choutari

I am a teacher educator and a literary translator by profession. My teaching profession took its roots two decades ago when I was first appointed as a primary teacher in the government-aided school in a remote part of Gorkha. I joined this profession before I was ‘professional’. I was qualified to teach simply becauseI had an academic certificate of Intermediate Proficiency Level in English Education and I could teach or say ‘tell’ my students what was written in the English textbook. I have not strayed from this profession ever since my first appointment.  However, my changing of institutions has been rather unpredictable and whimsical.

During this professional life I ever wished  to be intimately closer to ‘someone’ more experienced, more supportive, more understanding under whose guidance I could learn the science of teaching, feel its art in the actual classroom, and who I could turn to whenever I needed counseling on my profession. However, that ‘someone’ never turned up in my teaching career save the university teachers who observed and supervised my lessons during peer teaching, school teaching and campus teaching during the practicum. That was Okay, I call it ‘just Okay’, since the purpose was to fulfill the requirement of examinations; the process was too mechanical; the feedback for further improvement was too ritualistic. I could have grown differently in the field had I got ‘that someone’[1]. I sense that many of the pre-service teachers who I have been teaching are also longing for ‘that someone’.

‘That someone’ who I have missed in my professional life is dubbed a mentor.The me-like person who wishes to learn under ‘that more experienced one’ in the field is dubbed a mentee. The process whereby the mentor supports the mentee to grow in the field is mentoring.  I come up with certain reasons when I ponder over why I longed for mentoring and why I mentor my students these days. In my observation, this is a widespread longing in Nepal.

Why mentoring? Continue reading »