Tag Archives: #ELTmentor

Serendipity (#ELTmentor story by Chris Mares)

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.

 

SERENDIPITY

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.

And serendipity.

 

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.

How often?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?…
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

 

 

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#ELTmentor stories (yours!)

Do you have any?

 

There are words that are BIG. Whatever it is that inflates them (read: social media buzz) doesn’t often help in figuring out the true meanings. In fact, the hype seems to distract from the real depth and lessen the importance. It is a little confusing, especially if the word lures and the concept is enticing, in the way my imagination defines it.

This word I’m talking about now is mentoring.

I’ve recently taken a keen interest in the idea and planned a couple of opportunities for myself to experience mentoring. An interesting flash of a thought at the back of my mind: three years ago I would get all excited and jump into it without a second thought, without preparation. Learn by doing. Learn from the experiences themselves and mistakes that inevitably come with. I chuckled thinking of the way my methods changed. I pace myself now. If I get to do it, I thought, I want to do it “right”.

Now here’s the thing… what is “right”?

Maybe to start with, it’d be useful to define a mentor, and I want to define not from a dictionary but from my heart. For me, a mentor is a person who supports, listens, helps to reflect, inspires, challenges you, ideally shares beliefs. Gently, in a non-intrusive kind of way, offers a vision that makes sense for you. They are people you respect and feel comfortable talking to about what bothers you, honestly and not necessarily openly seeking guidance or advice (though you know they have what you need). I haven’t had a mentor assigned to me by a program or through an institution, yet it’d be a lie to say I haven’t had mentors. There are a few people I consider to be my mentors but, frankly speaking, I don’t recall ever saying it to them… So maybe they don’t know. I can’t say we ever went through a process of mentoring that started and ended. So probably my view is distorted, over-romanticised, idealized. Can I trust it? Am I crazy (and arrogant!) to think I could be a mentor to anyone, given my own definition?

What am I saying?… I feel lost. 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. On what happens if two people just don’t click. And 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.

Thank you for those and for reading, as ever.

 

 

 

 

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