by Angelos Bollas
I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately. I wasn’t sure how to choose who has been a good mentor for me and who hasn’t. The truth is that I am very lucky to have met and worked with great teachers, trainers, tutors, and professors. I have been taught by truly inspiring teachers who are dedicated and passionate about their subjects. I have been trained by skillful and talented trainers who inspired me to want to become one. I have also been guided and supported by college and university professors whose presence in my life has shaped the way I work and function professionally. So, naming one of all these people would certainly not be right.
It was then that I thought that I should write about my students. At the end of the day, it is for them that we do all the things that we do in our teaching, isn’t it? Of course, choosing one or two out of so many would be tough, but I am sure we all have those few students that have made a difference in our professional lives; not because of being exceptionally smart or showing excellent language skills, but rather by inspiring us to become better day after day. Then, again, such a person would not qualify as a mentor per se, so I couldn’t write about them.
Finally, I sat down and thought of a turning point in my career, a point when something changed as a result of my coming into contact with other people in this profession. This ‘something’ was more than just becoming better in what I was doing; it had to do with the way I felt about my job. It was really a point in time when I started thinking beyond the walls of my classroom, when I felt part of a wider community of English language teachers. And then it was obvious to me: I couldn’t write about anyone other than the wonderful people I connected with when I first went online and joined #ELTchat.
I still remember that day very vividly. I was doing my CELTA with CELT Athens at that time. One Wednesday Marisa Constantinides (@Marisa_C) talked to me about Twitter and #ELTchat. At first, I couldn’t understand much. Imagine that I was in the middle of completing my CELTA course so my head was full of new information anyway. Yet, Marisa was very enthusiastic about Twitter, telling us things like “Twitter is the hub of education, get out there, connect with other like-minded people.” So, I went home, created a Twitter account, and joined #ELTchat.
For those of you that do not know, #ELTchat is a hashtagged discussion on Twitter. ELT professionals from all over the world log into their Twitter accounts every Wednesday at 7 pm (UK time) and chat on a topic of their choice. It is fast and vibrant, and it offers its participants practical community-built knowledge. It is also more than just that. It is a caring community of colleagues. During my first attempt, not only was I amazed by the chat itself, but also by the people who participated in it and by their support. I remember chatting with teachers from many different countries (e.g. Japan, USA, Saudi Arabia), with trainers whose work and blogs were (and still are) much acclaimed, as well as other well-known figures of ELT. In addition to following the chat-related tweets, I started following all of the chat participants; some of them followed me back and we started exchanging ideas, tips, experiences and more on a daily basis.
These and many other people of the chat community have been more than a reference point for me; they have been the driving force that makes me want to do more. It is not only about being better, but more about doing more, trying things out, sharing your experience, helping novice teachers who need support, etc. Isn’t that what mentors should do anyway? That’s what I think at least. We are doing a job that does not offer much in terms of tangible benefits; it has, however, much to offer when it comes to getting the best out of one’s self and that’s exactly what #ELTchat people have done for me.
I am writing this in the hopes of helping another teacher feel as I feel. Before joining the chat, I was a local English language teacher whose only point of reference in this profession had been my own self and a couple of colleagues. However, from the day I joined Twitter, I started feeling as if I am part of a bigger team. My professional world has expanded and so many talented people have become part of it. In fact, a very active and important part of it. For all this time, I have been lucky to enjoy their company, their help, their experience, their ideas, their reflections, their support, and so many more things that I couldn’t possibly list in a single post. Most importantly, their presence is what makes me want to become better every single day. It is to them that I dedicate this post and it is to them that I owe my most sincere gratitude.