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’. 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.
Mentoring is for a balanced professional development. Competence and confidence are two faces of a profession. English Teacher Education in our context is heavily inclined to competence i.e. equipping pre-service teachers with competence at the expense of nurturing confidence in them. I have sensed this lope-sided practice in the practicum of my students, and classroom observation and interview of teacher-candidates. Even the student-teachers who demonstrate their sound professional knowledge in written tests, lesson plans, and material development fail to put their thought into action in the actual teaching. To find out the actual cause behind this, I often ask them to write down how they felt during their presentation and whether they were satisfied with their teaching. The common answers I have come across so far are– I was nervous. I forgot what I had planed earlier. I could have done better. No. Not satisfied at all. Then I realize the difference between teaching and mentoring. We have been teaching ELT methods, techniques, activities and so on in the formal classroom setting. We have been imparting information on what and how of the profession. Our primary focus has been content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and knowledge about teaching and learning. At the same time, this is what we have been testing in your students. However, we have falsely assumed that once our students are competent enough in the subject matter, confidence will take care of itself. Confidence is more than teaching, instructing and preaching. In my attempt to strike a balance between competence and confidence in my students, I share with them my own working philosophy of mentoring– sharing, caring and daring.
Sharing: What to share?
The ultimate goal of mentoring is to support mentees in professional development or transformation. It also aims at orienting them to the professional community. For this, the mentor can share his goals and aspirations, knowledge, expertise, experiences, and expectations. Both mentor and mentees are committed to the common goals and aspirations. Knowledge is the means to these goals. So the mentor should share with his mentees what he knows. He should inform them of what sort of knowledge they require to achieve their goals. The journey to professionalism is like the flight of a butterfly. It never goesstraight like a bullet whizzing in the air. The mentor is expected to guide his mentees sharing his experiences of success and failure in the field.Experience sharing helps the mentees realize that the ups and downs they are experiencing in the profession are natural and common. However, experience sharing should be bidirectional, that is, the mentor should also encourage the mentees to share their experiences. Goal-sharing is crucial. To share goals means to share their destination. Mentor and mentees cannot embark on the same journey of professionalism unless they share the common destination. Sharing gets consolidated when mentor and mentees care about each other.
Caring: How to Care?
Caring is to do with nurturing the sense of security. Security is multifaceted–academic security, professional security, financial security, to name but few facets. Their desperate search for security betrays deep-seated insecurity in them. Caring is called for to overcome such insecurity. For example, the feeling of psychological insecurity is rampant among those struggling to grow academically and professionally. They might feel insecure about their success in examinations. They often cast doubt on their professional future. The feeling of insecurity is directly propositional to the level of anxiety. Anxiety is detrimental to their everyday life and overall achievement. Will I make it? Can I get a job? Can I earn my living as a teacher, translator, or editor? How can I find suitable colleges abroad? There are some of the FAQs by my student-teachers. These questions reflect their doubts, uncertainty and insecurity. It is here where the mentor has diverse roles to play–a counselor, an adviser, a sponsor, and an explorer.
A word of caution! Only counseling and advising may not suffice to make the mentees emotionally strong. The mentor may have to explore opportunities for them too. The situation may require him to share even his professional responsibilities so that his mentees can make some earning while learning. The caring mentor should not step back in exploring sponsors for mentees. Mentees too should care about their mentor. Caring should be reciprocal. They can take care of their mentor by assisting him in his profession, respecting his commitment, and disseminating his ideas and ideals.
In Buddhism, the mentor is described as the teacher with pituchitta, i.e. the one with Father Mind and the mentee with puttachitta, i.e. the one with Son Mind. Here the father image has to be interpreted as someone who has lived in the field more years, has garnered more experience and who is more learned. The father-son metaphor warrants a closer analysis, for it sheds light on the ideal relationship between mentor and mentee. Like a father (no gender bias intended; it can be a mother too), the genuine mentor should always be elated at the progress of the mentee. He should regard the mentee as someone caring his legacy farther. He should have the feeling of being extended not surpassed or superseded by his mentee’s achievement. He should think of being progressively unnecessary for his mentee. Similarly, like a son, (or a daughter) the mentee too should feel that he is living and prospering academically and professionally owing to his mentor’s guidance. The father-son metaphor suggests inter-being of mentor and mentee. That is, we are neither entirely independent of nor dependent on each other. Rather our professional, academic and creative being is always interdependent. One exists and gets continuity because of the other.
Daring has to do with encouraging mentees to take risk in exploration. A genuine mentor is never tired of encouraging his mentees to move ahead in learning, to explore the unknown, to beat a professional path through all the odds to reach the destination. However, the mentor should practice what he preaches. Put simply, he himself should be a model of a risk-taker in learning, and trying out novel ideas and techniques in the profession. Daring is the process of bringing out what is hidden in students. Here I am reminded of Carl Rogers’s epigrammatic statement, “If you can, you must“.’Can’ implies what someone’s potential is, while ‘must’ implies what he or she must do for the realization of the potential. The mentor should dare his students to do what he thinks they can do. In many cases it’s the mentor who might knowhis mentees’ potential better than the mentees themselves. In my case, I never thought that I could be a translator by profession. But it was my mentor who persuaded me to venture into the field. I have some student-friends who I call the Hanuman type, after a famous character from the epic Ramayan. I use this metaphor for those students who are yet awakened to their inner strengthwho need ‘someone else’ to inform them of what they can do and hence what they must do.
In passing, I’d like to present some rules of thumb for effective mentoring. These rules of thumb are based on my scanty reading of literature on mentoring and my own experience of being mentored and mentoring my students in translation and editing.
- The mentor should have the passion for learning, teaching and sharing. When asked why I spend so much time with my students outside the campus premises, My answer is ‘simply because I love it’.I resort to the philosophy of the Dewarists, a musical movement from India, ‘Some Things Are Worth Doing’.
- The mentor should have compassion for ‘more vulnerable, less experienced’minds that that have passion for exploration.
- Both mentor and mentees should be guided by mettaabhaawanaa, the feeling of friendship and the attitude of gratitude.
- Both should capitalize on each other’s strengths and should acknowledge their weaknesses.
- The mentor should pay back to the professional community. He can do so by sharing his expertise with the novices in the field.