When I think of mentoring, two words pop in my mind: teachable and reinvent. I connect mentoring to these words thanks to two dear colleagues of mine. One of them taught me that in order to change your life and take risks, you need to be teachable. My other friend told me that she needed to reinvent herself to accept the challenge of teaching teens.
To my mind, this is the essence of mentoring: to help and support the teacher, either a novice or a senior one-to develop and maintain a teachable attitude and daily to reinvent herself. Actually this kind of mentoring was the one I have been experiencing and that I practice until today .
It all started when I decided to change my professional life, after a long career as an ELT teacher, and accepted the challenge to return to the elementary classroom.
What made me change? Well, I think my 7 year old son was the reason why I wanted to return to elementary school as he was about to start his first year and I began questioning the traditional educational system followed by most schools in my city.
Then a bilingual school with an innovative proposal for education, began its activities in my town. I applied to be an elementary teacher there hoping to find something more challenging for me and for my son. Fortunately I got the job and my son began his elementary years there. I must say that, the mentoring process I was about to experience really changed my personal and professional life. I had been mentored and I mentored many novice teachers in my previous jobs , so when I began in this school I expected the same kind of mentoring process I had experienced before: weekly meetings with my mentor to discuss possible difficulties I was having with planning, classroom management, language teaching, etc… or to listen to my mentor’s feedback and evaluation on one of my classes he or she had observed.
However, in this school mentoring was completely different. We did have our coordinator and a senior teacher guiding us in weekly meetings, observing our classes and giving us feedback. But, our mentoring was embedded in daily practice and it would give me the opportunity to learn that to be a teacher you need to be teachable and constantly reinvent yourself. Firstly because , as we worked in pairs (from kindergarten to 5th grade we had two teachers in the classroom one who speaks only in English and the other who speaks Portuguese), we had to plan our classes together, to support each other during the activities not only concerning disciplinary problems with the kids, but also by sharing knowledge and expertise throughout the day. Besides, by teaching with an interdisciplinary approach, we had the opportunity to develop classes and projects integrating other disciplines. Consequently, while working in a class with a History teacher, we were supporting, questioning and evaluating each other’s practice, from different disciplinary perspectives, but with the same goal: to maximize our impact on our learners.
I firmly believe that the mentoring process I have been experiencing- sometimes as a mentor and sometimes as a mentee- has had a profound impact on my personal and professional life, for I have become more and more teachable and I am reinventing myself every day. It also fosters the 21st century skills I want to develop in my learners, i.e. collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. Most importantly, this kind of mentoring assured me that to be a teacher you need to be a lifelong learner.