Mentoring: As Good as it Gets

When I started teaching a long time ago, I didn’t have a mentor. I had colleagues and students, and occasionally I would seek help from a more experienced teacher. It was usually a question about the material or language that I couldn’t answer myself. Other than that, I relied pretty much on teachers’ guides even though I occasionally changed a thing here and there.

When I started my present teaching job at a large language institute in Rio, I had a mentor, but I didn’t know she was my mentor. I regarded her as a more experienced teacher who was there for me. She helped me get through the first agonizing months, which were loaded with paperwork, procedures, approaches, large class sizes — for someone who had mostly taught one-to-one classes,  fifteen students were surely a big deal.

It’s been five years since I started mentoring at my branch. Much of what I do as a mentor is rooted in my interactions with her. I’m glad I got to build a professional relationship with my former mentor based on mutual trust and respect. The one thing she never doubted was my experience as a teacher. After all, I had been teaching for over fifteen years by the time I started working at my school. She said I just needed to adjust it to my new teaching environment, and more importantly, she listened to me rather than lecture me. Not only did she take the time to listen to me, but she also took my input into account in her feedback sessions. She was definitely good in the sense that I couldn’t tell exactly why she was good.: She was good in the sense that  I simply enjoyed learning from her.

So, what else does it take to be a good mentor in that sense?

1)  Good mentors need to be knowledgeable in the first place. They also need to  have empathy and build rapport with their mentees to find common ground and build up from there. Having done that, a good mentor needs to tap into a teacher’s enthusiasm to develop skills and set goals;

2)   Mentors should never ever underestimate someone’s previous teaching experiences. Good mentors rely on their mentees’ previous experiences to bridge the gap between their former teaching settings and their new one. However, they should be suspicious when they hear newly-hired teachers say their job is easy because it never is;

3)  Good mentors don’t take anything for granted; they don’t judge or rush others. They don’t expect a teacher’s class to pick up only after one mentoring session. They take one step at a time and they walk hand in hand with their mentees. Mentors are just as part of a teachers’ achievements as teachers themselves, and they make others’ accomplishments their own.

4)  Good mentors are honest: They are aware of their own flaws and doubts; they know they will need to seek help from somebody else, if necessary, to help a teacher;

5)  There’s no such thing as positive or negative feedback. There’s honest feedback and that’s all. If it’s good feedback and everyone is happy, then let’s keep up the good work; if it’s negative feedback, let’s roll up our sleeves and choose our priorities. Too many goals to reach can be overwhelming and demotivating. Good mentors know that lack of motivation undermines the work of the most promising teachers.

6)  Last but not least, good mentors teach and go through the same things other teachers do. It takes a teacher  to listen to other teachers and connect with them. Ultimately, good mentors know that some days are just bad days and they just push through it all. Good mentors are people trying to make a difference in someone’s professional life.

Of course, here are just a few characteristics of good mentoring. What else can you add to this list?


Teresa Carvalho

Teresa holds a B.A. in Linguistics from USP and Delta Modules 1 and 2 Certificates. She has been teaching for over 25 years and has presented at webinars and at both local and international Conferences, including ABCI, IATEFL, and the Image Conference. She also holds a Specialization degree in English Language from PUC-Rio. She is interested in visual literacy and in language development for teachers of English as a foreign language. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Language Studies and is conducting research in the role of images in the construction of identity.

  • Marjorie Rosenberg
    Posted at 13:12h, 06 dezembro Responder

    Thanks for this Teresa,
    I have had also been on both sides of this, I have a colleague who has served as a mentor for me throughout my teaching career (over 30 years) as well as helped and supervised young teachers just starting out. It is very interesting to think about what we do that works but also what we can do about those things that don’t work, then put this into words and pass it on. In addition, a mentor always has to ‘walk the talk’ – there is no point in telling someone to do something which we don’t actually do ourselves.

    • Teresa Carvalho
      Teresa Carvalho
      Posted at 15:04h, 06 dezembro Responder

      Thanks, Marjorie. You have added a very important point. The good thing about ‘walking the talk’ is that mentors also establish goals for themselves and reflect on the challenge of putting theory into practice. In addition, I see it as a great opportunity for mentors to ask themselves whether they are setting goals that are attainable and relevant both for mentees and themselves.

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