by Theodora Papapanagiotou
In my previous post about feedback, I started off by quoting a dictionary to get an understanding of what feedback is. This time, since “mentor” is an ancient Greek word, I’m confident that I don’t need to refer us to dictionary definitions. I can do the job of explaining quite well myself.
The word “mentor” takes us back to the Odyssey. Mentor was the person that Odysseus was confiding to. He was the person who helped his son Telemachus and Odysseus himself in crucial moments during their life journey. Mentor was, in fact, goddess Athena in disguise. As you can see, ancient Greeks gave a great significance to the role of Mentor and, in my opinion, that’s how a great mentor (as we know them now) should be.
In my 20 years of teaching experience, I have come across some wonderful people who have helped me a lot and have given me strong incentives to continue on my path. I definitely look forward to the day when someone will consider me their mentor in their teaching career, but for now I will talk about three of my mentors who have shaped me as a teacher I am now.
The first important person in my life that I call a mentor came really early. I was 12 and started taking German lessons. To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to take up another language. I cried and whined and refused flatly to attend those classes. My parents almost literally forced me to. But then I met her, Ms. Mary Karazisi, my first and only German teacher. She was a really strict teacher with a stern look, who was assigning tons of homework, but I just loved it! We talked about Germany, its culture, the trips that she had been taking. She set an example for me and since then I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. That experience was the beginning of my studies of the German literature and language. I changed the language I teach in the process, but Ms. Mary has always been my role model. I deeply regret the fact that I didn’t manage to keep in touch, but I feel that I owe a big THANK YOU to her.
Olha Madylus was my first teacher trainer in English language teaching. A few years after I’d started teaching the German language, I was trying to find new ways to make my lessons more interesting. Back then, there were not a lot of seminars conducted in German for a teacher of German, so I attended a course in English at the British Council, hoping to find ways to adapt my German lessons to a more modern approach. That’s when I met Olha, the friendliest trainer I know. Her joyful attitude and simple approach made all the difference for me. On the first day of the course, she made sure that we all call her by her first name because we are colleagues, not trainer and trainees. It was very different from what I was used to, since all professors I’d had by then would prefer to keep a distance from their students. Olha taught me about games, projects, and songs. She taught me about having fun while teaching. To this day Olha is the liveliest person I know, ready to motivate and help teachers around the world.
Last but not the least, I would like to give a shout out to Chuck Sandy. We are a million miles away but he has always been there in my difficult times, the times I needed a friend. Although Chuck has not officially been my teacher or my trainer, he has been my guide. Whenever I hit my blues, he always finds a way to cheer me up and give me a purpose, something to work towards, something to be excited about. His amazing talent to break up the ultimate goal into smaller, more achievable chunks, makes me forget the reason of what caused me much distress in the first place. I don’t know if this is a kind of strategy, but it works. I know that Chuck has been helping a lot of people in this or other ways and I know that he keeps doing it again and again.
Obviously, I don’t have a rigid or well-shaped idea of who a mentor is. I do know that for me a mentor is not just a person showing you how something is or should be done. Maybe my perception of a mentor is that of a person whose whole philosophy and life attitude can make a difference in this world. There may be just a few people with this skill and I’m really grateful that I have met some of them.