Tag Archives: mentoring

Growing

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Image courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli

One of the unique things about becoming a teenager in the Canadian province of Alberta is you can get your learner’s driving permit on your fourteenth birthday, and that is exactly what I did. Just as with most young people, the opportunity to move behind the wheel is a thrill and one that you can’t wait to do on you own. In order to obtain your learner’s permit, all you have to do is to pass the written part of the exam. I remember the first time behind the wheel. My dad took me to a remote parking lot in a empty city park and had me start and start in first gear (I learned to drive on a manual transmission car). I loved it, but I desperately wanted to get out on the road. That opportunity came weeks later and only around some residential streets. Then the big day came. My parents and I were going to be driving to another city about 3 hours away and my dad was going to let me drive the whole way. The day was overcast, but clear and the start of the journey was fairly uneventful. Slowly, my dad nodded off in the front seat while my mom clung tightly to the door handle in the back seat. Then it happened: construction. I had no idea what to do. There were people holding signs, orange cones all over the place, trucks moving in and out of traffic, and to make matters worse, gravel and rough roads. Meanwhile, my dad continued his afternoon nap. Eventually we made it through and on to our destination. Once we pulled over and stopped, I realized that my hands were cramping as I had been clinging so tightly to the steering wheel that my knuckles had turned pure white. I could hardly take my hands off of the wheel.

I learned a lot from that experience, but in hindsight, it would have been better for me to have read a bit more on the subject and possibly even practised it a bit in on a smaller scale. Also, it would have been nice to have someone with more experience guiding me along the way, pointing out potential problems along the way (sorry dad, I know you were tired and it all worked out in the end). This is what it was like for me as I was handed over my TESL certificate back in 1995. It was like someone had handed me my driver’s license without the process of a learner’s permit. Sure, I had had a practicum with an experienced trainer, but it was fairly short and couldn’t possibly have prepared me for what was to come next. Over the years, I have grown a great deal with a long way still to go. I thought I would share some of my thoughts about how I have learned to become a better teacher for my students.

So, you have your TESL certificate in hand, what’s next? To me, you are like a young tree that has been planted in the ground. Here are some things that can help you grow.

Continue reading Growing

Recollecting

back to the future

Image courtesy of Mooshuu

Yesterday, I saw a tweet along the lines of, “If you could go back in time to your first year as a teacher, what would you say?” Good question. At first I wasn’t entirely sure what I would say, but the more I thought about it, the more it kept coming back to one thing: it’s not about me. Well, if that was all I would say, the younger me would probably say thanks and then move on. Also, if that is all I wrote today, you would be fairly disappointed in this blog post and might never return. For the sake of the skinnier Nathan and all those who dare enter this blog, here is what I could say in more detail. [Note: this was also sort of covered by Mike Griffin, although his was primarily about conferences.]  Continue reading Recollecting

Reorienting

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Image courtesy of Jonas Maaløe Jespersen

Shortly after my 11th birthday, my parents and I visited Disneyland for the first time with some of my cousins. It was a beautiful December morning in California and we spent most of day getting on as many rides as we could. It was late afternoon before my cousin Rick and myself decided we wanted to go on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride by ourselves. We got into the little ‘boat’ (a glorified rail car on a track sitting in water) and took off with an elderly couple joining us in our 4-seat ‘watercraft’. The ride was okay for the most part and we were reaching the end of our journey when the power flickered and then went off. Nothing. A complete blackout. Since we were sitting in a boat running on a track, we came to a complete stop and were surrounded by shallow water. The biggest problem was that there wasn’t a single light source in the entire room. There we sat for over an hour before a rescue canoe came to take us and our companions to the emergency tunnel where our parents waited for us anxiously. We thought it was fun and ended up getting a single-day pass to come back any time we wanted. It was the first time in Disneyland history that the park had to close due to a power failure. The one thing I remember quite clearly from that time in the dark was how disorienting it was. I remember feeling paralysed, unable to do much to fix our situation. We just had to sit there and wait for help to arrive. Continue reading Reorienting

Bridging

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Image courtesy of Jeff Fenton

In January, I moved across Canada to start work as an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) instructor for a university in Northern Ontario. The program was still really new and had, and is still having, a difficult time bringing in new teachers. It isn’t that the school wants to bring in outsiders, but the lack of local, professionally-trained teachers is posing a real problem. There is a push from the university to raise up teachers from within the local area through the creation of a teacher training program.

The TESL certificate program was in the design phase when I arrived and in April, I was a approached about possibly designing the material for the program as well as teach it. At the time, I was the only one who was qualified to run the program under the guidelines set out by TESL Canada. Full confession here, I hadn’t even considered being a teacher trainer, let alone help design a run a full program, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. May rolled around and I found myself on my first day standing in front a group of eager students waiting for the class to start. It hit me. Here I was about to teach others on what it means to teach. Me. I started to think, “What am I doing? These people think I actually know what I am talking about”.

The course set off on its five-week journey followed by a seemingly endless stream of practicums. It was during my observation times that I noticed students making similar ‘errors’ (or as I would define them, anyway) which we had covered in class. I couldn’t figure it out. Why was there such an issue with these things and not in other areas? What did I do wrong? How could I avoid this in the future? I started to reflect on my own first few months as a novice teacher and realized that I had made a number of those same choices even though my instructor had covered them. The problem was not in the instruction, but in the implementation. Bridging the gap from training to teaching was more difficult than I had anticipated. Continue reading Bridging

Mentoring

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Image courtesy of Christoph Rupprecht

Today marks the beginning of another week of TESL practicum observations for me. While I have enjoyed watching these new ESL teachers starting off their journey, I have to say I am a getting a bit tired. I realize that this is an important step for these trainees, but I feel like this is taking a whole lot more out of me than I had anticipated. It is funny considering that I’m not the one doing the lesson preparation and having to teach the class. I am not entirely sure why it takes so much of my energy, but I think I have a partial reason. I think it is because I care about helping them.

Long ago, I was in their shoes. I remember being that energetic, enthusiastic, nervous-to-the-core, rough-around-the-edges teacher in training. I distinctly remember the disaster of my first class and the not-so-interesting second class. But what I remember the most was the support I received from my TESL instructor, Gail Tiessen. I am so thankful for her. She was kind, firm, direct, and quick to help. Her comments kept me going, thinking, and improving. I am happy to still call her my mentor.

Yesterday, I was in church and the pastor was using the analogy of a pair of oxen being yoked together to work the fields. These oxen would not be able to finish the work on their own. Also, young oxen might not know what is expected of them without the support and guidance of the more experienced oxen by their side. The yoke isn’t there to punish them, or to say they can’t do it, it is there to give them support and guidance.

This analogy got me thinking about how we support and mentor those who don’t have the same amount of experience as ourselves. Continue reading Mentoring