by Rose Bard
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6.31
I didn’t use to have any confidence in myself when it came to expressing my ideas to others. It had been like that since I was a little kid. If you had asked me to talk to a peer one to one, I would do ok. I’d do even better if it was someone I knew. But if you asked me to talk in front of a class, I would be very shy. Actually, my schooling didn’t prepare me for talking in front of a group. I don’t remember school back then having us presenting stuff to the class at all. Most of the teaching was done through lectures and exercises from a textbook or board-work. Still, just providing kids the opportunity to talk in front of a class, to rehearse for the demands of their adult lives, isn’t enough. I hear students nowadays saying how awful they feel when they have to do these kinds of tasks, and how disappointed they feel about the grades they get when they do present.
But this discomfort with expressing my ideas didn’t seem to have too much of a negative impact on what I did in the classroom. I always thought that I was just a teacher and I felt comfortable just doing the teaching. I never felt the need to prove myself to my students. In fact, when I made spelling mistakes on the board–or any other mistake for that matter–and a student pointed it out, I would thank and praise them for their help and try to let them know that mistakes are part of speaking/writing in any language.
It was in 2012 that I met the wonderful people of iTDi. English for Teachers lessons were just what I felt I needed. Despite the fact that I read a lot of books on teaching and learning, academic articles and blog posts online, I was never confident to participate in conversations about teaching. The only time I dared to ask a simple questions in a teachers’ group in Yahoo, I felt totally ignored. I worried whether my question was too stupid for anyone to bother to reply. I guess many teachers out there must feel that way too. Because there are thousands and thousands of English teachers around the world and now that my situation has changed completely, I realize that I can only see a very few of them participating actively online.
But my journey into getting better at presenting my ideas really started when Vicky Loras became my mentor. After reading Vicky’s blog post in January 2013, I contacted her. In her post, Vicky showed her desire to mentor more teachers that year. Her sincerity and willingness gave me the courage to ask her to be my mentor. I told her that I wanted to develop my speaking skills because I wanted to share my journey with other teachers. Vicky suggested we meet in Skype once a week on Sundays. Sundays for me was fine, but it blew my mind the fact that Vicky would take her Sunday time to spend an hour with me. Vicky is a great listener and a great educator. We would discuss education like we were sitting in a café. She never corrected me or made me feel somehow less than her. In short, if you have the chance to be mentored by someone like Vicky you are blessed.
As soon as I felt a bit more confident, I decided to share this sense of support by inviting a former colleague to have coffee with me that same year. She had just been to Canada and I was eager to hear about a course she attended through a Fullbright scholarship. While we were sharing about our teaching and personal life, she realized I was really engaged online and said that she wished to continue learning and sharing but she wasn’t confident about using The Internet for PD or new ways of using technology in teaching. We started exchanging emails with materials, and having regular meetings in a coffee shop. It was really nice to hear about her own context. She worked, and still works, for a regular school with big groups in the private and public sector. This taught me things about a learning/teaching context I had never worked in.
Vicky always said that mentoring is not about one knowing more, it’s about learning together with and from each other. I remember when I had my first presentations online, Vicky helped me by giving tips and remembering things others had told her when she was in the same situation. She also encouraged me to take the opportunities that came my way to present and write and I know she created some of those opportunities for me too. Listening to someone who has the experience that you don’t have is very important. A mentor after all is trying to help you achieve something. Instead of doing it alone, you can have someone to walk together, think together and exchange ideas with. Because of what Vicky did for me, I’m not afraid of sharing anymore and much less to be judged by those who will read or listen to my talk. I do my best to communicate my journey to others. Vicky always praised my efforts as a teacher and a presenter. I hope Vicky is proud of me as much as I am grateful to her for all she did for me.
In fact, I wish that everyone could find themselves a mentor. And I wish potential mentors would look for mentees as Vicky opened herself up to teachers in her blog. In 2013, mentoring was a big topic and we talked about it online a lot. Nowadays, people seem to have forgotten this powerful development strategy. I am still striving to do for others what Vicky did for me.
Mentoring is still one of the backbones of my PD, and here is some of my plans for 2015/2016:
- Continue being open to teachers online who contact me
- Start a local group for English teachers to meet and share practice, concerns and especially to inspire each other and show PD opportunities online
- Be more open to my own colleagues in my workplace
- Start my M.A in Media and Technology in Education
“The role of mentors is so important, regardless of the profession one is in. Especially for us educators, having a mentor and mentoring other teachers can evolve into an amazing and creative relationship. It is as simple as talking to someone about their worries, concerns, interests and guiding them into new paths. New kinds of teaching, new studies even. Be open and help out someone who needs it!” Vicky Loras, March 2013