In my previous blog post I wrote about my keen interest in understanding mentoring relationships and the way they work for teachers. Chris Mares (whom you might remember from another guest post here on this space and whom I since then have been lucky to meet) quickly responded to my call for #ELTmentor stories, and now I’m excited to share it. One mentor story from a man who I’m certain has been a mentor to many.
by Chris Mares
They say everything happens for a reason. It does. But not always for the reason you think.
“I think you’d like him,” Bob, my friend, said, finishing his story.
“And he wants to teach English in Guatemala? Send him to me.”
Which was how it began. And now, weeks later, I’m standing at the white board during English through Film, looking at Mikal with the, “OK, hit play,” look.
“I’m giving them time to finish writing down those phrases,” Mikal said, not rushing, sensitive to the pace of the class, rather than caught up in the excitement of it, as I was.
I smile. Shake my head. Who’s mentoring who, I wonder? Twenty-two meets fifty-nine.
“What?” Mikal says.
“You,” I say, thinking, you are something else, Mikal.
His story comes out in fits and starts. He hasn’t seen his dad for years. Or his mom. He was a military kid. Always on the move. Rootless.
“But he’s so grounded. So comfortable in his own skin,” I say to Bob. Mikal lives in Bob’s house because Bob is a writer and writers bring interesting people in their lives.
“He picks up languages so fast,” I say, “in break I hear him speaking Thai, and Turkish, Portuguese, and Spanish. What an ear.”
“Have you heard him sing?” Bob asks.
A week later Mikal and I were playing guitar together. I sang JJ Cale’s Magnolia and Mikal played lead. Smooth, understated, and right on the money.
“That was sweet,” Mikal said.
He was in a different league. Then he played Norwegian Wood with a dreamy elegance that made me tingle.
The day I had to take my truck to the dealer to have the brake cables replaced, I had Mikal teach my classes. I had full confidence in him.
I have seen him with all sorts of people and he is always who he is. A listener. He gives and he gets. He embraces life. Plays the sitar and shamisen, the banjo and the ukulele. And he’s only twenty-two.
“Mikal,” I said, “come and do the TESOL Certificate Program during Spring Break. You don’t have to pay.”
Mikal’s face lit up. He was so grateful. So touched.
But not as grateful as I was. He will make the program special. For all of us.
Ostensibly I am his mentor. In some ways I am but I have learned so much from him.
And so, in all humility and wonder, I thank you, Mikal.
In addition, Chris kindly agreed to answer some of my more specific questions about what the experience of mentoring entails.
What do you do as a mentor?
I simply do what I do. I believe in the apprentice model. Follow me. Watch me. Eventually I will give you something to do. And then something more. Until you’re doing it.
What do you talk about together?
We talk about Bob, music, love, friendship, students, beauty, food, travel, language, shared experiences.
We see each other every day. If Mikal wasn’t living with Bob I’d install him in my basement.
Why is Mikal such a good fit?
We click. He gets me. He knows I live on the edge. That I’m marginal. That I don’t care what people think of me. That I’m smart. That I’m funny. That he doesn’t have to tell me what key he’s playing in because I will find it. That I care about the truth. That I’m an iconoclast.
Having said that, a good mentor can tailor themselves to anyone.
In Mikal’s case, tailoring is not required.
Thank you, Chris, for sharing what seems to be a very personal account of a very special mentoring relationship. I’m going to guess not so many young teachers can boast such a story (well, I know I wouldn’t have been able to…). While I tried to picture myself in your shoes and understandably soon failed, I think I have some learnings to take away from your story:
- To be a mentor one should not only love what the mentoring is about, but also love people. Be humane, a person of big enough heart to care.
- Maybe mentoring relationships can develop organically from the seeds of understanding each other and being “on the same wavelength”. Maybe. And then, is the other way around also possible?…
- I want to believe that a good mentor can tailor themselves to anyone, but I can’t just yet persuade myself to believe in the “anyone” part.
- And finally and related to the above, I wonder if my perception of a mentor as a person who you have a deep connection with is true and not limiting. Limiting me to seek to learn how an honest, beneficial mentor-mentee relationship could be grown and nourished from a different place. I want to understand if idealizing mentoring is an attitude that helps or hinders (or neither).
- I want to read more stories. Different stories. Like this one from Matthew Noble (thank you!) and this one from long ago by Michael Griffin.
As usual, thanks for reading.